Thursday, June 27, 2013



Matias Aguayo has always been a goof, the type of jump-on-the-table artist who's having way more fun than you. He depends on this persona for his scatterbrained takes on house and electro; it takes more than a little charm and panache to get someone up on that table with you. So it's problematic that it feels like Aguayo's laboring for long stretches of his third album, The Visitor. Aguayo has, in the past, mixed in noisier, less friendly tracks, but on The Visitor these tracks are more prominent, busier, and messier.

The Visitor deepens Aguayo's dependence on his voice as he steers away from merely assisting dance tracks to carrying song structures. For an inveterate weirdo, Aguayo has been involved in a surprising number of smashes: the catchy-despite-itself "Rollerskate", his vocal turn on Battles' "Ice Cream", his DJ Koze-remixed "Minimal" and its spiritual companion, "Walter Neff". On his best tracks, the rhythms act as a centrifugal force, an axis around which his voice and melodic detritus can spin. Too many songs on The Visitor fail to establish this center, and the result is an album of oddball psychedelia with its wacky creator foregrounded.

Unfortunately, we've reached the point of diminishing returns on Aguayo's imagination, as The Visitor veers from style to style recklessly; The Visitor was recorded with a host of South American artists, many of them residents of the Cómeme label. "Dear Inspector", for example, is a long, gently tumbling pop song that sounds like someone in the Elephant Six collective bought an MPC sampler. After dragging "Dear Inspector" out for nearly eight minutes, Aguayo abruptly switches modes on "By the Graveyard", a reverb-heavy storm that sounds like Can's more aggressive moments, a style he revisits on the album's clanging, industrial closer, "A Certain Spirit". These tracks have plenty of rhythm, but Aguayo can't seem to find it. He shrouds himself in effects and shouts the songs' titles, retaining none of his casual tunefulness.

Aguayo has trouble balancing his whimsical impulses with his aggressive ones throughout The Visitor, like he can't decide if he wants to flirt or brood. The chant-heavy "Llegó El Don" is domineering, its thwacking rhythms pointed right at the listener. "Levantate Diegors" busies itself with noise, unleashing dozens of small rhythmic flourishes around its bossy, bass-y vocals. It's not just that these tracks are less fun, it's that they're not compellingly deviant either. The big, evil synth line that anchors the creeping "Las Cruces" feels like a better mix of Aguayo's new style and troublemaking instincts.

Aguayo is better, too, when his tracks are less cluttered. He captures a little of his old magic on "Una Fiesta Diferente", a vocal-heavy stew where he and some background singers spin an easy tune out of bilingual lyrics. "El Sucu Tucu" is frantic but focused, with Aguayo's staccato vocals matching the song's eager snares. "Rrrrr" opens the album with a stupid, inviting bassline, and the chorus's purring, rolling "r"'s are vintage Aguayo. Aguayo's music is brave and increasingly complex, but it's worth wondering how well these impulses are serving his tracks. There's potential in The Visitor's mix of electro, new wave, and pop, but it's obscuring or distorting Aguayo's personality, which is the engine that has driven his songs for so long. |