V/A ~ Realismo Mágico

Another music label turns five this year (wow, these little moppets grow up so fast) and Sergio Díaz De Rojas’ piano and coffee records celebrates with a fresh compilation from friends old and new, inspired by magical realism.  The genre inspires creative composition, but of course this label, home to artists as diverse as Plïnkï Plønkï and Justina Jaruševičiūtė, was already creative.  A special recognition goes to illustrator Jordan Amy Lee and graphic designer Celia Fernández González for the product design, which includes individual works of art for each piece.

Tim Linghaus begins the set with “Saturn Days,” and of course, piano.  The coffee will come later.  The set’s only lyric track may surprise listeners, but it’s a fine introduction, synth lurking in the background like the fantasy element of magical realism.  We’ll track this off-kilter approach throughout the set.  Sjors Mans injects off-stage words and whooshes, eventually transforming “Zosima” into a stringed lullaby.  The title means “viable and likely to survive,” which is not the fate of those mounting the “Bäckahäst,” a (thankfully) mythical horse that drowns its unlucky riders.  Jakob Lindhagen and Vargkvint use bells and theremin to produce an otherworldly patina, late minutes reminiscent of mid-period múm.

Then it’s back to piano and (strangely) the sixth planet, with Simeon Walker‘s “Saturnine.”  Quiet percussion rattles in the back, patiently awaiting its time in the sun.  Soon the drums emerge, then vanish, spent.  Martyna Basta explores the fantasy element in the experimental “Speaking of Explosive,” the first of two tracks to feature a clock.  This expansive piece also includes rustling, running, scuttling, and sudden bursts of dissonance.  The more conventional “Fall Fly Run” follows, teaming the adept talents of Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres and Josh Semans, pushing the tone into the electronically swaying realm.  As in “Zosima,” there’s a late-track turn to the orchestral, although the beat continues to beckon throughout.  Next, Gustav Davidsson contributes the ivory-based “Above the Rain,” continuing the every-third-track trend of piano pieces; as the sun sets, the strings come out.

The final flurry begins with a deep electronic piece.  John Hayes‘ “Rituals” features synthetic patterns atop a deep repeated bass note, foreshadowing the arrival of something entirely different.  This arrives in “Kelp,” presenting a different side of Lucy Claire, sampling seaweed and starfish, playing piano atop a tapestry of crackle and brine.  The waves arrive, but are unable to wash away the notes.  And finally there is coffee, thanks to Klangriket, who arrives with a carafe just when it is needed.  Although the track is slow, when we hear the percolation in the background, already our hearts are beating faster, anticipation rewarded by the rapidity of Ella Zwietnig‘s stuttering “You Went Through Me, Truly,” a title that might be applied to coffee although we suspect it means something else.  Brueder Selke, the artist’s name implying magical realism, closes the set with “Lotos,” defined as “a fruit that induces forgetfulness and a dreamy languor in those who eat it.”  If there is a piano and coffee sound, this is it: violincello descending on black and white keys.

Three cuts are especially evocative of their inspiration. “Bäckahäst,” “Speaking of Explosive” and “Kelp” each bear the mysterious tone that makes magical realism so effective: a sense of something fantastical, beyond our ken, perhaps even a little dangerous.  A sinister horse, an ancient clock, and an underwater world are brought to life in such a way as to invite and repel in equal measure.  Can one resist the siren’s call, or is one fated to drown in the river after one last ride?  We’d love to hear more such music as piano and coffee enters its second half-decade, already hinting at an expansion of timbre.  Happy anniversary, Sergio and friends!  (Richard Allen)

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