- While it is unclear how much conceptual design goes into his work, it is interesting to consider what connection might exist between the music and the title of Ricardo Villalobos' new album. As the Spanish translation of Basque, Vasco refers to a people whose language is famous for its idiosyncrasy; to the bafflement of linguists and academics alike, Basque bears absolutely no resemblance to its neighboring European languages. Fittingly, Vasco is an album that lies in stark contrast with all that surrounds it. Exactly a year since the stark musings of Fabric 36, we see Villalobos further along his own strange trajectory, crafting lengthy, enigmatic pieces that either vastly redefine "house" or defy categorization altogether.
The first two tracks on Vasco are some of Villalobos' most experimental efforts yet, and also some of his most inspired. "Minimoonstar (Full Session)" is twice as long as its precursor, and is all the better for it. In the 15 minutes that got lopped off the vinyl edit, we see the wispy textures slide back, bringing those extraordinarily crisp drums into focus for the track's final stretch. In all its 30-minute glory, "Minimoonstar (Full Session)" engulfs half of the album, and possesses some of Vasco's most serene moments. "Electonic Water" maintains the lean structure of "Minimoonstar," but shifts gears a bit with its dub inflected syncopation. While its modest bass kicks plod steadily ahead, its driving rhythm lurches back and forth, creating the kind of rhythmic complexity one might expect from Shackleton. Much like "Minimoonstar," "Electonic Water" is no dance track, but the depth of its groove shows Villalobos at the height of his creativity.
For better or worse, the second half of the album trades innovation for accessibility. "Amazordum" is Vasco's clubbiest number, with a sharp bass kick and dry keyboard melody that make it all sound very Perlon. After the experimental meanderings of the first two tracks, "Amazordum"'s melodic speckles and boosted energy are a welcome change of pace. "Skinfummel" is the only 100% new slice of material on offer, and unfortunately is Vasco's least exceptional track. Like several of Villalobos' previous efforts, "Skinfummel" makes an unorthodox hook out of a long, continuous vocal piece and surrounds it with succinct drum loops. In this case, the focal point is a girl speaking sternly in French, obscured by a murky mix of effects. With its squishy hiccups, hovering melodies and semi-erotic suspense, "Skinfummel" is a generally satisfying track, but one that Villalobos has done before. And considering what our man is capable of (i.e. "Enfants," "Andruic") the use of vocals is sadly lackluster.
But this whiff of mediocrity does little to detract from the album's overall quality. The first two tracks are surely some of this year's most original efforts, and all four flow together nicely into a 70-minute piece of experimental house elegance. Vasco may not have the beginning-to-end perfection that one might expect from such a revered artist, but nonetheless it is evidence of Villalobos' persisting virtuosity and peerless creativity.
01. Minimoonstar (Full Session)
02. Electonic Water