Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ricardo Villalobos, "Achso"

Is there a word for a record that signifies that a wildly popular artist has finally lived up to their hype?

Sure, this is entirely a subjective distinction. As it concerns Oasis, for me, that record was "Some Might Say". This particular example has stuck in my mind for over ten years now. I was following Britpop very closely at the time and after all the debut album hype, the going to Japan hype, the taking on Blur hype (which was about to shift into a higher gear during the coming months), and the "will they get the Xmas #1?" hype, they finally came through. A merely great single wasn't going to cut it by that point, it had to be an instant classic, a "scuse me while I kiss the sky" moment that made you believe that anything was possible for this band. "Some Might Say" is a record that makes you feel ten feet tall. All the coke-fueled power of "Be Here Now", with none of the red-eyed indulgence. Even the b-sides are massive -- "Acquiesce" is equally gargantuan to say the least.

At Mutek, the most noteworthy thing about Villalobos was often he played. In 2002, he was everywhere, playing for eight or nine hours spread over three nights with various (superior?) collaborators. His best moments always seemed to happen with Dandy Jack by his side. The wet sock thumping that pervaded most of his work finally received a breath of life from tracks like "Dexter" (from "Alcohofa"), which eerily approximated Joy Division's "Heart and Soul" set to a hypnotic beat. The following year's "The Au Harem D'Archimede" stretched on and on and on, with each track completely outlasting its welcome, an endless wade through liquidy murk, as if Villalobos had been searching for the ultimate minimal funk groove and had somehow nodded off to his own beats.

"Achso" is everything you could have expected out of Villalobos. Describing it seems to involve a series of contradictions -- it's minimal, but there's so much going on. It's dark and brooding, yet playful. It's relaxing, but contains plenty of moments of wild, kitchen-sink complexity. Huh?

"Ichso" might be the track of the year. Yes, it's only March, but the competition might be closed already. It churns along for two full minutes, punctuated by coughs, sputtering, and the sound of a block of wood being thwacked (?), all of it combining into a stew of bizarre accented background noises seemingly lifted from Yello's "Oh Yeah". None of them seem to be keeping in time with the actual song. This is all part of the buildup to that immensely satisfying moment when the beat kicks in -- finally, after years of droopy micro/ketamine/drumming on a shoebox house beats, Villalobos slams into a beat I'd expect to hear on a hard house record rather than the typical fare of his contemporaries. Sighing, weeping clarinets (? singing saws? what the hell?) float in and out, all of them following their own dreamlike rhythm. Granular, chaotic, epic.

"Duso" ressembles the more stripped down style of "The Au Harem D'archimede", but "Erso" recovers with a more sprightly tone. "Sieso", the longest track here, playfully skips along for over thirteen minutes, its bleep-filled sing-song melodies acting as a throwback to Orbital's baroque masterpiece "In Sides". Although "officially" a double EP, "Achso"'s 52-minute running time puts it firmly into album length territory. The gauntlet has been laid down -- techno producers, can your best four tracks OR your best 50 minutes of music top this?

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