Much like a musical superhero, Ernest Gonzales is a man with a secret identity. Well ok, not really secret as such, this is the age of the internet after all. When he dons his lucha libre mask, Gonzales transforms into Mexicans With Guns and makes music that aims straight for the dancefloor’s jugular. When the mask is off, he is his quieter “real” self and makes music that’s less focused on making people dance and much more likely to make them think and feel. Don’t get me wrong, it may still make you dance, I know it does for me. It’s just less obvious on the surface.
Back in 2010, San Antonio-based Gonzales released the first full length album on the then newly minted Friends of Friends label. Titled “Been Meaning To Tell You”, it was Gonzales’ second solo full length and a beautiful work of deeply personal music and art written and composed as a love letter to his wife. Nearly two years on to the month, Gonzales returns to Friends of Friends with “Natural Traits”, an album that very much feels like it’s picking up from where the last one left.
Where the previous album’s compositions blended elements of electronic music, chip sounds and folk across a template loosely centred around 140 bpms, this new album slows things down, somewhat yet still keeps the emotive powers of the previous work in creating vivid images and feelings in the listener’s mind and heart. “Natural Traits” is short – with nine original tracks and one remix – and manages to say all it needs to in that time, never outstaying its welcome.
When I say slow things down I refer to the overall tempo feel of the album, which is this time round closer to the templates of house, though still imbued with a little hip hop to keep things not quite as obvious as you might first think. Make no mistake though, this is not more house music re-packaged for the modern listener, but rather a body of work that takes this template as a base from which to explore musical possibilities, doing so thanks in no small part to Gonzales’ talent for composition and melodies. Using no samples, Gonzales writes with both analogue and digital equipment to produce music that manages to tap into the power of the former to produce a rich, warm sound and the flexibility of the latter to deliver interesting and unusual rhythms and melodies.
There is cohesion across the nine tracks that make “Natural Traits” a great repeat listen. The more you play it, the more sense it makes without stopping you from picking out favourites. Tracks like “When Synchronicity Prevails” and “Beneath The Surface” carry and display this emotive power I mentioned before best, especially in the guitar melodies of the latter, which feels like a direct continuation of the first album for the label. This is music that carries your mind away from whatever is distracting you in the moment and conjures up feelings and thoughts in ways I find myself so often wishing more electronic music did. There’s melancholia at times, hope at others, especially as most of the tracks evolve along non-conventional progressions. Opening track “The Prudence Of Evolution” and “The Sentimal Sea” meanwhile best describe this house template on which much of the album seems to rely, with steady and hypnotic 4x4 rhythms made warmer and funkier with some great percussion work and the same sort of melodic treatment that’s apparent throughout the album and which makes Gonzales’ music so appealing to me.
There’s plenty on “Natural Traits” to entice listeners both young and old, the key thing being that this is honest music that so obviously comes from the heart and has been crafted as such. It may not make the same impact as others in our always-on, hyper-connected world, yet “Natural Traits” – much like its predecessor, which I still bump regularly – is for me a fine, honest and carefully crafted album of electronic music, the first one to really make me stop and listen carefully in a while. It’s also deeply personal music that really fires your own emotions when you listen to it, and that’s something no amount of hype can fake. Let your ears and heart to be the judge.