Natural Traits, Ernest Gonzales
Friends of Friends, USA
by Andrew Casillas
In many ways, Ernest Gonzales’ brand of techno is perfect for his hometown of San Antonio. It’s expansive, not very flashy, and infinitely better your second time around. His latest record, Natural Traits, sustains a robust atmosphere of sinewy but nuanced beats but distances itself from the brash, head-spinning swing of his Mexicans with Guns project. Where that project owes much to experimental hip-hop and fat-bass funk, Natural Traits prefers to lie in the weeds, slowly building to almost indeterminable crescendos. But it’s still strangely appealing, and undeniably very good.
It’d be easy to take one listen of this record and instantly deem it something plain and unflattering like a “grower.” Indeed, a passive listen would only do a record like this a disservice. Instead, this is high-level mood music that will hug you closer the more you want it to hug you. Not that there’s nothing you can’t rally behind. Fans of glitch-n-bloop indie rock like the Notwist will find much to savor here. Dig the ethereal guitar line in “When Synchronicity Prevails” or the humming mechanics behind “The Heroic Lives of Particles.” There’s also “The Scattered Thoughts of Raindrops” which brings the dreaminess of the entire affair front-and-center, with its grab-bag of delightful electronic tricks which build into a thoughtful, substantial sound. “The Voice of Fate” may be the secret winner in this collection, though, juxtaposing an Asian melody with a lean 2-step shuffle. Seriously, it sounds like falling into drizzling rain.
There are a few valleys that keep Natural Traits from crossing the goal line unscathed, however. Some of the soundscapes sound dressed in too much sheen, too close to the line where music gets too comfortable dressed in software’s clothes. And the Dntel remix at the end may be a bit of overkill; its addition as the denouement kind of takes the spotlight away from what should be a victory lap.
Regardless, this is still a marvelous record, which is a great summer techno soundtrack after you’ve exhausted your mind and body with tribal or ruidoson. Obviously, the love for this won’t be universal. For those coming for world-thumpin’ electronic music, you’re in the wrong place. But if you’re the type that likes to take things slow and explore at your own pace, Natural Traits is easily worth the investment. Just like San Antonio.