Ricardo Tobar - Our Violence (Musar Recordings, 2021)
On his latest offering, Chilean producer Ricardo Tobar continues to convey his transfixing audial language to us, with the music found within weaving and winding over hill tops, sunken valleys and rolling onwards towards the horizon lines.
Electronic music, for the most part, conveys messages to the listener through tone, application and complexity, and from this we can being to understand the emotions and narratives being imprinted into every bar. How clear these meanings are conveyed is often up to the methods in which the producer utilises to channel observations, intrinsic feelings and emotions, and more often than not we start to see their world playing out through our own eyes. It could be the overriding complexities that mimic the complexities of life and society, or the sombre breaks within the rhythm that hold a mirror up to our own ponderings, or it could be the intensity of drums and bass that make your heart pound along to the shaking ground - if any of these are utilised in tandem with one another then things become clearer with every passing moment. Sometimes the balance shifts from one element to the next, but the swings in density and the importance placed on progression mean that the listener is engaged with the comings and goings from start to finish, never for one moment feeling lost but simply given the opportunity to look around and take it all in. When conveying a mood remains at the forefront of making music, then of course the sound that comes forth will be enticing, mesmerising and profound all at the same time, with the raw elements of the tracks moving all over in order to enact a response from deep within. This approach also allows for monumental jumps to be made in terms of the dynamics of sound, where artists feel free to approach making their tracks because so much of the process is guided by a inward force, something which guides and moulds the elements that they pull together which can range from an endless array of tropes. Electronic music remains a sphere that can allow such meanings to be placed within the music, as lyrics aren't necessarily involved but mood and tone are, and this provides a duality in experience between what the artist is looking to convey, and how much the listener connects to that message and also what part of themselves they give over to the music. The music remains very much like a piece of art, where the visual image remains compelling but when you read the blurb next to it, you understand more so the contexts in which the music was made and pulled together, and when paired with the immediacy of the emotional response to the music itself, its incredibly powerful. We take away what we wish, but in some cases the music has an edge to it that is hard to deny and easy to fall for, and its the meanings which we begin to understand, the contexts being conveyed, and the audial languages being spoken that elevate records and discographies to new heights of excellence.
For some time now, Chilean producer Ricardo Tobar has been releasing deeply meaningful music, not just in terms of melodic intricacies and intelligent technical applications but also in how the context in which he lives and works have profoundly impacted upon him and the records that he releases. Tobar's sound is somewhat difficult to pin down in terms of an overarching style, instead its perhaps easier to discuss what kind of mood he looks to convey within his releases, and looking back over his discography there is plenty to discuss in this regard. His understanding of portraying melody so vividly is perhaps a more obvious aspect to highlight, with so many moments found within the records he releases that paint pictures and scenarios with clarity and passion, not just in the placement of keys and pads but the manner in which they evolve and grow. Alongside that, his sense of progression is a joy to be involved within on an audial level, with highly refined frequencies being utilised to move all the elements involved from point A to point B, with an eagerness to showcase all the depth that resides within the layers of his music. Tobar has never shyed away from surprising us too, with plenty of releases pointing to differing spaces within his sonic universe that perhaps are less well traversed but still feed into the overarching picture, and as such we are always kept on our toes as we glide from one release to the next. All of these elements, from melody to drums to progression to dynamism, are neatly wrapped up in perhaps the most important aspect of Tobar's approach - messages, context and social commentary. Tobar's work speaks to us on multiple levels in a musical sense, but the overarching narrative is fuelled by issues like cultural appropriation, oppression, social unrest and injustice, and these contextual flows make themselves known all throughout his works. These invisible treads show themselves in the tallest peaks, the high octane passages and the deeply moving melodic treads, and as a complete package we really do revel in the depth and monumental scope of it all. Within his discography there is much to highlight, with our favourites including the expertly conceived grooves that reside within the 'Betweener' record, which was released in 2016; the bountiful and incredibly varied feels that abound from the 'Trellis' LP, which also came out in 2016; the trippy and deeply hypnotic feels of the 'Red Sea' record, which came out in 2017; the melodically exquisite vibes found on the 'Lithurgia' EP, which also landed in 2016; the extordinary leaps and bounds that flow out of the 'Continuidad' LP, which arrived in 2019; the soft yet hard hitting rhythms that exude from the 'Nadivi' release, which also came out in 2019; the rhythmically explosive 'Evade' single, which Tobar wrote as a response to the social crisis happening in Chile in 2019; the dynamic and ever shifting feels found on the 'After The Movie' EP, which arrived in 2020; and finally, the expansive and progression tones of the 'teenager/together' single, which landed in 2020. In all, Tobar's music is equal parts style and substance, with a heavy emphasis placed on the substance side of things, with meaning and purpose residing in all corners of his sonic universe. From the emphatic highs to the deep wells, the energetic rhythms to the soft quiet parts, his sound is a reflection of a creative and intuitive mindset, where the eyes remain open at all times to events happening around, and as such provide yet another layer of paint to be added to an already impressive soundscape. You can dance to it, you can think about it, and in many ways this is what all great dance music achieves - sounds for the mind, the soul and the body, to soundtrack our ponderings but also to provide us with awareness, understanding and relfectionism. If you seek only the finest kinds of electronic music - of all kinds - then be sure to take a trip back through his previous works, its all pretty damn amazing.
The visual and audial language of Tobar's releases has already spoken to us on numerous occasions, and with his new release 'Our Violence', which arrives on Musar Music, the vocabulary found within this language becomes even more profound and complex. Fuelled by the issues surrounding cultural appropriation, this record sees Tobar at his most revelatory, with the music found within constantly finding new spaces in which to grow into in order to find answers and seek clarity on an issue that plagues so much of the world today. The progressions found within are a marvel to witness, with Tobar's signature interplays of sequences weaving an intricate web of ethereal messages that start and end at just the right moments, with the balance between densities carrying us along on a wave of gentle euphoria. As with many of his previous releases, 'Our Violence' portrays a number of differing scopes and spaces, with plenty of styles being merged and mingled together so that they reside very much in their own sphere, one where our minds are pulled in all manner of directions so that we arrive at our own conclusions. To top it all off, the record features an excellent remix from S.O.N.S, which only adds further flavour to proceedings. And on that note, lets dive into this excellent collection of cuts, and embrace all that they have to offer us......
Up first comes the title track, and this one begins with the bouncing bass, expansive drums and the lone vocal sample to get things going. The ensemble is bound together by the kicks as they come into the background, with additional percussive elements coming into view not long after, as distant flickers erode into the spaces emerging inbetween. An additional vocal sample weaves its way within the structure, further binding us into the momentum as cascading key lines merge and transpose from one another in the distance, but before long they begin to follow a firm path and really start to come on strong. The ways in which the key lines move within the mixture is sublime, never standing still but simply finding all the areas they can to grow and evolve together, and just when you thought things couldn't get any more captivating, the bass notes come through the basement level to fill out the bottom ends. The track then takes a break from the kicks to allow the solid pad to occupy the top ends, but things then come full circle as the kicks and the bass come back into view, this time moving up a few notches in terms of intensity and scale. The bass is allowed to continue onwards as it rumbles its way into our souls, its tone and feel propping up all the little intricacies that continue to flicker up high, like stars in the sky on a particularly profound evening. The track then stops to reveal its soft undercurrent, with just a few sweeping chords left behind, as if to provide us with one final message to get to know before the track ends, but there's still more to come. The drums return for one final salvo, as we get carried away on the most enjoyable rhythmic frequency yet. Superb stuff. Up next comes the S.O.N.S remix of 'La Femme Aux Masques', and this one begins very uptempo indeed. All of the drums have this rolling feel to them, from the kicks right up to the expressive snares and toms, with the hats coming through to act as a sort of anchor for all these rhythmically rich elements to align with. The bass then comes into view soon after, and its energy is typically chiming along to the pulse, with a rise in its presence signalling other elements to join in on the progression as time passes by. The track then swings into its first breakdown, as pulsating notes move in and around the back ends of the composition with real meaning, but the drums come back into the frame not long after to really set the pulses on fire. A distant melodic feature comes into view around this time, in the form of a distorted chord progression that fits the feel perfectly and provides a contrasting textural element to proceedings, with its direction allowed to be almost freeflowing in nature. A sudden shift in its form then moves the track into its next phase, where the drums move away for a moment to help transition into the next phase, and here we see the drums regroup in order to maximise the feels of the progression. A series of build ups then shift us further into the dance, as drums shift in and out of time, all guided by the continual weaving of the lead key line, as further metallic sounding elements continue to shift in and out of all manner of realms. The addition of the deep pads towards the end of the track move us up a few gears emotionally, and we are just so on board with this one. Excellent stuff.
Up next comes the original mix of 'La Femme Aux Masques', and this one starts off with the simmering melodic sequence to get us going. The drums evolve around this core thread, their placement and spatial awareness sublime as always, as additional melodic layers align themselves with the top layers, and what begins as one layer grows into a spectrum of evocative brilliance. The keys inter mingle with one another in the most inventive of ways, their varying forms providing an enriching spectrum for us to become firmly rooted within, as the rolling bass permeates through the foundations as the lead whistle like line moves in and out of the picture with a glorious meandering feel. The ensemble invites you to jump right in, to get to know its myriad of flavours and tones, as we become enamoured with the vastness of the piece along with its incredible depth and deeply moving melodic outlay. The track showcases a deft hand at seeing passages out and welcoming new ones into the fold, as little fragments of thought linger in the inbetween spaces long after their main sequence dissolved into the melting pot of colour. This one will linger long in the memory, for sure. To wrap things up, we have 'Mineral', and this one starts off with the distant vision to get things going. The repeating chord progression feels like it is speaking to us from underground, beneath the waves that lap at our feet, and its only when the drums come into view that their presence gets pushed a little bit more towards the surface, and this is when things really start to unfurl. The drifting vocal samples converge with the kicks and mingle with the undercurrents, as our heads are firmly placed within the kicks, our eyes fixated on all the little elements that drift into the structures, such as the additional percussive elements and the sporadic melodic lines. The textures that persist on this cut are superb, with Tobar really pushing these lines to new emotional heights, as if the keys and guitar signify cries for help. The density management within this track is second to none, with fuzzes and hums expanding and contracting with glee as time passes by, as their overall presence helps to push other elements away before bringing them back into the fold. Its a masterclass in exploring the widest facets of melodic expressionism, with so many voices being found within that all speak to us on numerous levels, from the expressive high ends to the short bursts and exclamation, through to the profound narratives that go on and on and on. Its the final statement of a record that showcases Tobar at his very best, with the tunes all finding their own way of expressing the messages which he looks to inject into every single passage of his music, and at the end of it all you feel like you have gained something very positive indeed.
Language within Dance Music can come in many forms, aside from its most obvious representation in the form of singing and lyricism, but in the absence of conventional lyrics its the keys and drums that do the talking, and in some cases the music sings as if it is conveying the clearest of narratives. Ricardo Tobar's music is profoundly impacted upon by his context, and the messages which come with the music he releases help to contextualise why he makes what he makes, and what he creates and how he gets to the point of creation. Filled to the brim with hybridisations, beautiful progressions and moments of the purest kind of emotional expressionism, his discography is one to cherish, and this new album sees Tobar highlight these ideals and then some. Each original cut contains a hefty amount of complexity that channels his marvellous sense of direction, with the momentum found within being one that is defined by how the interfaces between varying passages work, and how sutble introductions of new elements can help certain parts peak and fall away in equal measure. You have the high octane burners, the passively brilliant downtempo never-enders, and pretty much everything inbetween, and when a S.O.N.S remix is thrown into the mix, we are left with an album that is utterly enriching, no matter how you look at it. A wonderful record, from start to finish.
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