Michita Rex, Chile
by Pierre Lestruhaut
When discussing Chilean producer José Manuel Cerda’s El sueño de la casa propia project, its very own beginnings are rarely referred to. Although official discographies will cite 2006's Hogar as being the first record published by ESDLCP, Cerda himself has revealed he considers 2010's freakishly gorgeous Historial de caídas his actual debut. Hogar isn’t a bad record by any means but, to be honest, it carries the amateurish imprint of a musician that was only starting to toy with electronic gadgetry. Cerda neither likes nor identifies with the sounds in Hogar, finding it "a little too post-rock." For a man who also claimed Valparaíso’s musical scene seriously lacked pop, it’s no surprise that for his latest short-form release, Doble ola, his aesthetic is becoming increasingly hook-centric, even if his modus operandi remains in the vein of glitchy sample-fueled electronica.
Most writing associated with this brand of sample-based music will outline its merit on the basis of conceptual coherence and stylistic consistency—the piracy as composition of plunderphonics, the anarcho-capitalist Muzak twisting of vaporwave, or the ghoulish “old-timeyness” of hauntology—but rarely engages the subject of the music’s own listenability. Even at its utmost ear-candy configuration (The Go! Team, The Avalanches, Bibio), concept and style are ingrained as the nexus of the music’s own appeal. By contrast, ESDLCP manages to stand out by working precisely within the confines of listenability. In focusing on providing moments of truly audacious beauty, it completely throws away any sort of conceptualization that could be made of it.
The glitchy manner in which Cerda has always manipulated and presented his samples could also see words like “noise-influenced” being associated to ESDLCP. The first 20 seconds of “Balbina” come as close to noise as anything else in Doble ola, but by the time the piano arpeggios hit the surface there isn’t a single doubt remaining: José Manuel Cerda isn’t here to indulge in fist-fucking your ears, he’s here to give you a 4-minute session of continuous eargasms. Nowhere else will the EP aim for such luxury, but it’s top-notch sequencing makes it so that the climax is not only reached after just the ideal amount of foreplay (the catchiness/dance conflation of “Caen Rocas,” the guitar licks/marimba ethereal combo of “Peinados de fuego”), but also given its due period of relaxation (leisurely paced, flute-sampling “Pobre Ave”).
I used to differ with Andrew Casillas' definition of ESDLCP’s sound in his Historial de Caídas review, in which he stated that "there's nothing really original about El sueño de la casa propia." How could something so sonically unique not be original at all? But I’ve gradually come to believe every time more that José Manuel Cerda’s brand of glitchy vocal chops et al. aren’t really that innovative or forward-thinking at all. Just like another one of my favorite albums of 2013 so far, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, the glistening surface that distinguishes it (in JT's case, 8-minute long pop songs) might trick some ears into buying it as some sort of forward-thinking opus. In reality, it functions because its own ambitions never stray too far from the ends of pleasure and listenability, because it’s hook-centric music as paradisal sonic escape.
Which is why trying to discuss the work José Manuel Cerda Castro in the context of Latin American electronica feels a bit pointless. Standing at the margin of both Latin folk-infused electronica and new world techno, ESDLCP is still confidently owning its own private island of holy-fucking-shitdom, holding sway over weird-as-fuck Latin American electronic music territory. Three years after wondering how Cerda could possibly follow such an out-of-nowhere success like Historial de Caídas, he seems to have shrugged off the two main follow-up album clichés: Doble ola is neither a safe continuation, nor a risky rupture. It’s actually more of a question mark. It leaves us wondering if this is the snack that will keep us satiated for a little while, or the sugar-coated dessert that’s closing off a well-rounded meal.