By Peter Holslin | 8 December 2008
Rooted in a purist anti-‘ardkore mindset that spawned a variety of at-home listening styles in the early ’90s, “minimal” usually brings to mind the mutated techno of Berlin’s Basic Channel and the vaguely paramilitary ethos of Detroit’s Underground Resistance. Minimal house that later emerged from labels Mille Plateaux, Perlon, and countless others, trading cold robotics for wet timbres, dancier beats, and more heavily affected vocal layers, gave the spacey vibe and hypnotic repetition a streak of seduction and soul. But while the Chilean-born, Germany-based producer Ricardo Villalobos has long been a minimal techno-house posterboy, his Vasco is a dynamic and refreshing work all its own, transcending minimal bounds in bold colors.
Vasco might have been the landmark album few expected had it been released before the Vasco 1 and Vasco 2 EPs, which came out months ago. As one commentator at Resident Advisor points out, Vasco’s potential impact might be diminished by the fact that only the underwhelming “Skinfummel” is hitherto completely new. But the DJ-dance industry doesn’t tend to humor the dreams of the auteur and Villalobos is more likely to be satiating the sweaty with beautiful ephemera at Fabric, London’s famed nightclub, alongside old-school techno DJ Richie Hawtin (a definite Detroit betrayer, bless his soul). In moments like these there’s no saying what Villalobos will do. In the end, all is forgiven for the fifteen more minutes we get to hear of “Minimoonstar (Full Session),” that which forms Vasco’s calm heart.
“Minimoonstar (Full Session)” comes across as a brilliant jam, but it seems more apt to think of it as an exercise in ornamental focus. Overlaid with flourishes of resonant bass strings, guided by synth marimbas that twist around a jaunty motif, the fresh drums’ deceptively easy beat undergoes subtle shifts—a roomy snare fill here; a shimmer of the high hat there; a clicking kick accent. A treat to the end, the beat does not change so much as evolve. “Electronic Water” keeps the pacing, while the atmosphere is more viscous. Beginning with a jerky bass hum and a subdued, compact beat, ricocheting steel drums gradually gain velocity. After an abrupt resonating clang, upper-register tones flicker as a wet bass squiggles around and occasionally reveals itself as (what sounds like) an affected steel drum. “Electronic Water” is not a track to dance to—it’s one to drool over while in the depths of a La-Z-Boy and listening on hi-fi speakers—but “Amazordum” is, featuring a disco-tinged four to the floor stomp that seems almost crude compared to the gentle, melodious loops that interlock with it and the glassy, punctuating lead. “Skinfummel,” driven by a vocal sample of a French woman that gets chopped up into splatters and doused with echo, closes Vasco on a mild, weird note.
Vasco can feel like a limber and glossy foil to Jeff Mills’ frenetic Waveform Transmission Vols. 1 and 3, but it can also seem more akin to So Percussion’s mind-melding adaptation of Steve Reich’s Drumming. In the mellowest of ways, it’s one of the boldest minimal albums of the year—and surely one to carry us into the next.