by Blanca Méndez
One of the most telling lines ever written by Anne Sexton (or by anyone, for that matter) is from her poem “You, Doctor Martin.” In it she writes, “we are magic talking to itself, noisy and alone.” That one, simple line encompasses who Sexton was as a writer and the truth in that short line is also Fernando Alvarez’s truth. Alvarez is Installed and he is one of those almost painfully self-aware types. Listening to his intimate music you get the sense that it betrays him, like it’s revealing secrets that he didn’t intend to disclose. But he’s more in control than that. At times the intimacy is even mischievous and wry. In Plancha, Installed knows the ins and outs of his conflicts, acknowledges the battling states within him, and delivers this awareness so intelligently and poetically, it might just break your heart.
In “Que No,” Installed repeats the line, “doctor, estoy bien,” as a reassurance that seems more targeted at himself than his doctor, like a self-affirmation that he is, indeed, fine. It’s a revealing almost-mantra that seems very personal, like the listener is intruding on a very private moment. Even when the song talks about someone else, it feels very introspective, examining Installed’s own relation and reaction to that person. “Palestino,” about unrequited love, is as much about the “muchacho Palestino” as it is about Installed’s struggle with his unfulfilled desire. One of Sexton’s strengths was in knowing how to arrange words and how to pace them so that sometimes they glide effortlessly and sometimes they trip over each other and sometimes they drag like tired feet. Installed also has a strong command over phrasing. Some sections in “El” feature Installed talk-singing, almost rapping, a style difficult to execute without coming off as comical. But he pulls it off. He builds vocal cadences like this one throughout the album, rhythms that become a part of you, echoing in your bones like instincts you didn’t know you had.
Not only is Installed aware of the expanse within himself, he is keenly aware of sonic space, the depth and breadth of it, and the texture he achieves by manipulating sound is extraordinary and poetic in its own right. The layers of background sound in “La Miel” are so dense and kinetic, that all together they sound like rainfall. The vocals are somewhat isolated from this, as if emanating from a cave that serves as shelter from the downpour outside. “Lejos” is an instrumental track in which electronic sounds emulate nature, evoking bird calls and cricket chirps and that stillness of dawn and being gently awakened by the whisper of morning. And it all feels remote, hence the title.
That remote feeling in the music is present on much of the album, acting as a foil to the personal lyrics. And a lot of the album is made up of elements that contradict each other, but somehow harmonize in the soundscapes that Alvarez creates. As tumultuous and haphazard as it all may seem on the surface, what Alvarez has orchestrated is an album of delicate balances much like the meticulously crafted turmoil in the poetry of Anne Sexton (though perhaps not quite so dark). Plancha is a bold exploration of sound and self and one of the most ambitious albums of the year.