December 1, 2023

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Mabe Fratti: Se Ve Desde Aquí Album Review

Mabe Fratti’s music tends to pull in opposite directions, torn between friction and release. On 2019’s Pies sobre la tierra and 2021’s Será que ahora podremos entendernos, the Guatemalan-born, Mexico City-based cellist, composer, and singer spun vast, verdant worlds out of tangled loops and layers. Those albums were notable for their fullness: lilting cello lines and Fratti’s high, plaintive voice, often multi-tracked or run through Auto-Tune, entwined above dense thickets of synthesizer and reverb. Her songs could be chaotic—tendrils of noise, like the buzz of a charred amplifier, might run beneath even the most angelic refrain—but their chief characteristic was an overwhelming sense of yearning, expressed in searching vocal melodies. If those first two albums were lush, leafy gardens, the new one, Se Ve Desde Aquí, is a desert. Fratti’s music has always been beautiful, but this is a different, more daring kind of beauty: stark and severe, capturing the cracked earth below and the radiant sweep of the night sky above.

The shift is immediately apparent on “Con Esfuerzo,” the instrumental sketch that opens the album. Dissonant bows flash out above churning synths, a halting drumbeat, and a burst of dubbed-out acoustic guitar. There’s a sense of something building: spirits being summoned, or a storm coming on. In the past, much of Fratti’s best work manifested when she reached into the zone where the elements bled together, as if she were feeling her way toward clarity; here, the mystery deepens as she pares back.

The following track, “Desde el cielo,” is the album’s first proper song, yet it’s just as skeletal. She plucks a bassline on her cello; the synthesizer sounds like a howling wind. “Fuera, fuera,” she sings (“Out, out”), her voice assured despite its wavering tone. Underneath her, an atonal swirl of sax, drums, and guitar suggests a fusion of free jazz and ambient, charged with the energy of spontaneous creation. Across the album, she’s assisted by a handful of wildly talented collaborators, including multi-instrumentalist Héctor Tosta, electronic musician Carla Boregas, violinist Alina Maldonado, drummer Gibrán Andrade, and saxophonist Jarrett Gilgore, whose spectral, silvery glint illuminates several of the record’s most thrilling moments. However it may have been recorded, it feels like a group of players improvising together in real time. Yet despite the complexity of the tumbling movements on “Desde el cielo,” emptiness yawns between each instrument. It’s less a linear piece of music than a space to enter and inhabit—a dwelling, perhaps a refuge.

Stripped of electronic processing, Fratti’s voice is more forceful than on previous albums; the air of refinement that sometimes clung to her singing has burned off. Her tone is still soft and breathy, and in places even thin, imbued with a quick, nervous vibrato, but she makes bolder leaps, happy to lean into imperfection. There’s a newfound confidence to her songwriting, too. She frequently recalls both Arthur Russell and Kate Bush, not only in her melodic choices, but also in her ability to blend the intuitive with the unknown, to make the alien seem second nature.

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