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On the one hand, the new album by Lucrecia Dalt would seem to come at us out of nowhere – which suits the tale it tells of an alien visitor to, of all happy landings, Mallorca. “Tearing through my glandular data gates / I bring you the view from no-when,” it begins (but in Spanish, this is a quote from the fantastic English translation provided on the flipside of the lyric sheet). A sentimental organ lays down a tonic chord, with wide vibrato. Burbling electronic sounds flit about the edges. A clarinet warmly hums along. Words jump the bar line, meandering through an unknown verse structure.
On the other hand, this is an album of crisp clave rhythms, slow grooves, delightful melodic turns… not the stuff of outside, avant-garde tests to our ears or patience. Is space as easy going, as seductive a place as Mallorca? (Maybe that’s what Sun Ra was trying to tell us.) Or perhaps landing anywhere unfamiliar – the view from no-when – is itself seductive. “Disorder is a measure of warmth,” says the story’s central character, late in the album, in a whisper amidst a joyful song of self-assertion called, “The Mess.” That line is itself a quote from poet Alice Fulton. Who is this messy alien quoting poetry?
The album has me wandering around its landscape, examining every detail like a geologist. I have favorite tracks – but then they change with the light and weather. First it was “Atemporal,” a Cuban dance laid down by acoustic bass and natural percussion. Then it was “Contenida,” which floats freely through exposition until a set of odd, manipulated sounds sneak up to pound a rhythm like a giant fist on a mountain-sized calabash. Today it might be “Gena,” named for Gena Rowlands, which flits in and out of Weil-like art song before settling into a coo that might have been written for Sade. (Or Gena Rowlands, if she sang.)
Who made this? I’ve done my homework. I listened to the earlier albums. I know Lucrecia Dalt is born in Colombia and lives in Berlin, and mostly works with electronic sounds. And I am still not sure where this album came from. Should I care? Or should I accept, like the character Preta who lands on Mallorca, that it is a lovely place to be.
Isabelia Herrera wrote an excellent account of the album’s engagement with traditional Latin American song forms and beats: son, bolero, tumbao, salsa, merengue… Dalt herself wrote tantalizing short descriptions of each track, citing influences which seem to mainly come from film (Polanski, Chris Marker, Cassavetes, Nicholas Roeg). And a philosopher, Miguel Prado, wrote liner notes spelling out the concept behind the story (for which he is co-credited), the “umwelt” of an extraterrestrial that “could produce… an anomaly in humans’ phenomenological time consciousness.”
I enjoy these expositions. But there is another framework for this album, the most immediate for my ears, and it’s the one I bring from my own record collection. There, I would place it among other collisions of avant-garde voice with earthy percussion. Like Comme à la Radio, by Brigitte Fontaine and Areski.
Or the singular collaboration between Nelson Angelo e Joyce. (They never made a follow up.)
Or Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom – where he provides both the voice and the percussion, but he’s Robert Wyatt.
This is, in other words, a stone-cold classic on my own island, though newly dropped from the sky. Newness is its own umwelt. We cling to what we know – I can’t help but frame this album with others I already value – and that familiarity is also a pleasure. But the new arrival changes the environment for all, including what’s familiar. It’s aggressive, invading from outerspace. Why pretend otherwise? This is “an outsider,” as Miguel Prado writes, “who has disrupted time and the way we see… eternity.” I have to make space on my island now.
Or not. It won’t stop Preta, who, as those observing her say in “Dicen,” “crawls around and licks it all up.”
See how she dances
Ay ay ay what a mess
And it’s all the same to her
Listening to: The Muslim Highlife of Alhaji Waziri Oshomah
Cooking: A glass of Complantation, by Marcel Deiss
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