Minimalist dance music: this is the label given to much of Ricardo Villalobos’s work. The label works, but is perhaps unfair in that it puts Mr. Villalobos off to a side. It keeps him in the dance-music fold. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but labels can turn minds off from what ears might love. Ricardo Villalobos should be heard by the card-carrying Aphex Twin/Neu!/Kraftwerk crowd. Salvador, like much of Villalobos’s work, transcends borders. Sure, it can be danced to, but it can also be used for other things, such as driving or reading or thinking. It’s fascinating in its layering and an aural feast overall. It’s time to bring this out to the (relative) masses.
Salvador is a collection of 12"s ranging in date from 1998 to 2006, with one Senor Coconut-mixed bonus track thrown in for good measure. What is clear immediately is how much Villalobos likes his space. The songs crescendo from time to time, but only in comparison. Take the peaks on their own and they wouldn’t necessarily be recognized as such. This is a strength: managing to provide a line to travel along that swerves just slightly enough to keep one hanging on.
One of the exciting discoveries after several listens is that the beats will shift slightly within a song. The downbeat becomes the up. It changes the mood from persistent and tough to subversive, nightmarishly subtle. And then back again. Percussion can come in the form of glitches, drifting in and sounding like insects scraping against walls, magnified for your torture. Or they resemble rain falling into the street, if you could separate out each single drop.
It’s the overall listening experience that is the true boon to the music fan. Put it on as background and space out to the wonderful mathematical equations that make up music; find some order in chaos. On a car ride, notice the weird shifts in sound coming from your speakers, like how six minutes into “Tempura” there’s a banging that seems as if it is coming from inside your own trunk. Finally, and of course kindly, don’t forget the headphones (Villalobos will remind you with his face peeking out from a pair on the back cover). For this is music that is truly meant to be listened to closely. There is no exaggeration in saying that some of the sounds that emanate are visceral. You will hear things that you are actually feeling. In your chest, in your stomach. Your body will react. There is no substitution for this.
It all goes back to talent and art. What may start as part of a movement, a trend and safe haven, moves out of that realm and into others. Ricardo Villalobos makes music to move your body to. He also makes music to appeal to the brain. It’s all a part of the same. It’s not so much in how it’s hard as that it’s heard. Humans are complex, stemming from our bodies, and Salvador is just another lesson in addressing all the different pieces. Villalobos is an artist, working passionately in a genre he has been immersed in for years. His dedication to greatness is evident in the finished product.