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Ale Hop & Laura Robles — Agua Dulce
(Buh Records BR176, 2023, LP / DL)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2023-05-09

Agua Dulce Cover art

Ale Hop is Peruvian multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer Alejandra Cárdenas, now operating from Berlin, who we introduced Exposé readers to with her earlier solo album Apophenia back in 2019, a mix of dark and dreamy ambient sounds with an experimental bent, featuring voice, keyboards, electronics, percussion, and electric guitar, all dripping with distortion, loops and processing — a beautiful basket of noise. Laura Robles is a percussionist who was born in Swaziland, grew up in Peru, and is now, like Ale Hop, operating from Berlin. Agua Dulce is the name of one of the most popular beaches near Lima, not far from where the two musicians grew up, although they never knew each other then, meeting for the first time in Berlin. It’s a small world! Now the two have joined forces to create a stunning epic based on Afro-Peruvian traditions with a more modern experimental edge across the album’s nine tracks, Cárdenas on guitar and electronics, and Robles on cajón, the percussion instrument originally created by black slaves from wooden fruit boxes at a time when foot drums were banned at the end of the Spanish colonial era in the 19th century — and thus the cajón became a symbol of resistance from its very beginnings. While the rhythms are based on the dances of Peruvian folklore, they are twisted, distorted, processed, and electrified into something radical and novel using Cárdenas’ electronics and extended guitar techniques. From the very first track, “Son de los Diablos,” the rhythmic drive is intense and at times chaotic, with the swirling electronics and effects bringing it up to a whole new level. Conversely, with “Fuga en Alcatraz” the electronic pulses and guitar effects take the lead while the brisk cajón work (processed also) follows it along its seven-plus minute duration. The title track offers a bit of a respite, with sort of a refreshing and random feeling, like water, while the electronic effects form gentle waves through which the cajon and bass pulses are suspended. With “Huayco,” the cajón gets some electronic effects, creating an unusual texture, while the processed guitar and electronics drive ever harder throughout the piece’s duration. Speken voices are used to good effect on some pieces like “El Fenómeno de la Niña.” Throughout, Agua Dulce represents a monument to experimental atmospherics and captivating wonderment, and certainly quite listenable.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Ale Hop / Alejandra Cardenas

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