Sebastián Maria ~ ÁeÁe

Sebastián Maria writes, “ÁeÁe is an album for the dance floor in a time when dance floors don’t exist.”  It’s a strange conundrum.  As we wait for clubs to re-open, we’re storing up a wild array of spectacular music, which means the first few months after quarantine are going to be halcyon times for DJs.  In the meantime, the artist’s next big concert will be online as part of the Latinx collective Sazón Department, live streamed from MoMA PS1.

But while we don’t have clubs, we do have cars, perhaps the next best thing for reflecting the concept of motion ~ and ÁeÁe sounds fantastic while speeding down the highway with the windows down.  It might be less suited for suburban driving, as we picture stroller moms and joggers screwing up their faces while wondering, “What is that?” To answer a question with a question: “What would World’s End Girlfriend sound like if inspired by the music of Colombia?”

Maria’s beats are plentiful and rapid-fire, infused with South American chants: chopped and stuttered, scattered and battered.  Looking at the cover, one can imagine a colorful dot for every beat.  But there’s more than just polyrhythms erupting below this equator.  A strong harmonic sense suffuses the recording, present in dueling drones and dramatic surges.

The bold beginning should be all most listeners need to make up their minds.  “three songs for the flower eater” is a twelve-and-a-half minute track that we wish were longer.  Multiple percussion lines develop, converge and pull apart; small vocal snippets are manipulated and looped.  In several spots, the music draws to a peak, inviting dancers to lift their choreography to the next level.  The music is restless, propulsive, caffeinated.  Amazingly, when only three minutes remain, the tempo downshifts without losing energy.

The shift lays the groundwork for a smooth transition to the album’s first single, “canto del cauchero,” one of only two tracks short enough to be a single.  As a sonic distillation, one can only hope it appears on adventurous playlists.  The stomping rhythms of “bananas and violence” recall cacerolazos and beckon movement as they give way to disco synths.  In the final third, the music again changes pace, sparkling with the invitation to “Dansa!”

But where might we dance?  In lieu of clubs, ÁeÁe might serve as the score to the world’s most modern street festival.  Having sown the seeds of complexity early, Maria concludes with his most accessible track, demonstrating that his music is an open invitation.  The title “he started laughing one day and couldn’t stop” may sound like a pseudobulbar nightmare, but the music is joyful, a reminder that one day, not too long from now, we’ll open those dance floors and enjoy what will likely be the happiest parties of our lifetimes.  (Richard Allen)

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