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Ricardo Villalobos
The Au Harem d'Archimede

Ten words and phrases frequently used to describe current electronic music: 1) Deep, 2) Minimal, 3) Funky, 4) Glitchy, 5) Warm, 6) Cold, 7) Blips and Bleeps, 8) Deeply Minimal, 9) Coldly Funky, 10) insert favorite here.

While most if not all of these could be applied to the music of Chilean-born producer Ricardo Villalobos, they do little to explain why it's so much better than so many other releases that get tagged with the same labels. Words break down a little in trying to explain this stuff, maybe because the music itself has few words to latch onto. But suffice it to say that Villalobos knocks my neurons around better than almost anyone — on both The Au Harem d'Archimede and its predecessor, 2003's Alcachofa, he breaks new ground in the field of minimally funky blips and bleeps.

The song on Alcachofa that attracted the most attention was "Easy Lee," which became fodder for dozens of mixes and left its vocodered vocals echoing in countless people's heads. The Au Harem d'Archimede probably holds no such "hits"; like Plastikman's most recent release, Closer (Richie Hawtin is reportedly a fan), this is more of a headphone thing, not a dancefloor thing. In place of flashbulb drum patterns, Villalobos builds subtler, pitter-pattering beats whose beauty lies in small adjustments of tone, texture and delivery. On the aptly named "Serpentin," an undulating, elusive bassline lurks behind the insistent kick drum, weaving in and out teasingly for the song's nine-plus minutes.

At times the album feels like a more austere version of Akufen's pioneering album, My Way, assembled out of tiny blocks of sound and tweaked at the most micro level. But if that description makes Archimede sound mathematical and sterile, it's not. On tracks like "Hireklon" and "True to Myself," Villalobos includes the most human elements that have ever graced his music (gently plucked strings on the former, and a soulful but nearly whispered house-music vocal on the latter), and with patience his sonic world becomes an engaging and inviting place. Everything has room to breathe and expand, and although the music marches forward with robotic precision, every step offers new cracks and crevices for restless minds to explore. For anyone with a long attention span and a 4/4 patterned heartbeat, The Au Harem d'Archimede is a sublime head trip.

by Dave Renard

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