Ricardo Villalobos Ricardo VillalobosDependent And Happy
Compared to his most fertile and frenzied period, from 2003 (the year he released “Alcachofa” on Playhouse) to 2008 (when he started his own label Sei Es Drum), the past four years of Ricardo Villalobos’ career have been quiet, with our man keeping a low profile and hardly making any appearances on the house market (he has also become a father, which must also have an influence). He has kept djing, but not as much; he has continued to work through the night, but without the excesses of the old days, and he continued to produce his trademark beats with liquid fluctuations and muffled kick drums, the ones that have always made him unique on the underground dance scene, but at an almost comatose rate. Since “Vasco” (2008), Villalobos' last “official” album, his output has been limited to the odd loose track, a remix here and there, and his efforts in collaboration with Max Loderbauer on “Re: ECM”, an album halfway between jazz and ambient, reshaping the catalogue of the legendary German label founded by Manfred Eicher. So Villalobos’ definitive comeback could go two ways: it might not be a comeback at all, he might just languish in a prolonged silence until he faded into oblivion, or he might come back through the front doors, hungry and tremendous, which is what “Dependent And Happy” wants to be. It is an atypical album released on vinyl in three parts (five records in total; in two weeks, they will be brought together on a mixed, and therefore incomplete, CD) marking a new tour de force in the career of the Chilean turned Berliner.
The truth is that Villalobos' discography was missing something like this: the never-ending album, almost two hours’ worth of tracks, after having come up with the impossibly extended track “Fizheuer Zieheuer” in 2006, which, in the vinyl version, ran up to 72 minutes (and it would most likely have been even longer, had the format allowed for it). On “Dependent And Happy”, he returns to his usual pursuit of playing with the listener's perception of time, offering some generous and, at first sight, uniform material. But the listening experience isn't a continuous and passive one: as there are three parts on vinyl, it is continuous and active, in front of two record players. It's as if Villalobos were challenging listeners, turning them into domestic DJs, giving them these 14 pieces of a puzzle that is put together differently every time they listen, for as long as they like (hours of disconnection from reality, if one wants to and has the time for it). It's an expensive proposition, as all of the records together set you back about 50 euros, but at least it's not a one-way experience like all of the other albums lining the shelves of the shops.
If not, you can always listen to the tracks separately. Villalobos remains true to his aesthetic principles: most of them are long (the odd Latin jam of “Tu Actitud” - which starts with a voice that is out-of-tune and off-beat until everything finds its groove - hits the 12-minute mark, as does “Put Your Lips” on the second part, but the most extended piece is “Zuipox”, at 14 minutes long) and, most importantly, the majority of the cuts (if not all) are house undulations disassociated from reality, ketamine-like, with dizzying, furtive beats coming and going at will, increasing the volume or reducing it to virtually nothing. On top of it all, Ricardo's trademark sounds hover as usual: hollow bass lines, all kinds of effects and crunches and the odd head-spinning melody. At this point, his sound is no longer surprising ( “Grumax” is a kind of rendition of “Dexter” up to its eyeballs in codeine, for example - it's a skilful twist on the usual), but you have to keep admiring him for his loyalty to creative principles that manage to hammer together some of the most difficult features of contemporary music (atonality, noise, randomness) into a playful, clubby, druggy and danceable sound.
The first part corresponds to the most “Achso” part of Villalobos' career, the most complex and irregular side, including more eccentricities (a guttural voice in German, like a Laibach psychophony, on “Das Leben Ist So Anders Ohne Dich”, which circles between isometric beats and deconstructed melodies, without there ever being a constant beat present) and more excursions into non-club territories. Alternatively, the second part is more linked to the Chilean's early work on labels like Frisbee (check out “Salvador”, for example), which is more constant, easier to play out; like “Samma” and “Ferenc”, which are either an exercise in nostalgia (for the early years of the Playhouse label, for instance) or recovered tracks from the deepest archives on his hard drive. The third part, a single vinyl holding two tracks, “Defixia” and “Koito”, features - in addition to his collaboration with Uwe Schmidt - the static novelties: a more floating, almost cosmic sound, with beats reminiscent of excessive garage on the A-side and another slice of slippery minimal on the flip. The conclusion is that even at his densest moments, Villalobos is still able to find a tiny, bright, hedonistic exit from his own labyrinth. He's pulled it off once again.