Terror Amor, AJ Dávila
Nacional Records, Puerto Rico
by Carlos Reyes
Being a band that had been featured across the cream-of-the-crop of music publications, I always approached Dávila 666 with some distance. When I needed a permission to feature one of their tracks on a compilation, I would ask their label. And when they toured through Arizona promoting Tan Bajo, I just couldn’t bring myself to introduce Club Fonograma to them. It seems they had been following all along. At least AJ Dávila did. Diverging from Dávila 666, the Puerto Rican maverick has stormed the blogosphere with an album that feels anything but distant to the common labor of the contemporary independent musician throughout Iberoamerica. Terror/Amor is a collaborative, important record that not only lives up to the hype, but also matches its ambitions.
Subscribing to an integrationist ideal, AJ Dávila recruited an impressive line of collaborators that take part of the Terror/Amor discourse. They didn’t come together to make a statement. Their presence is born out of true mutual admiration. Having people like Alex Anwandter, Juan Cirerol, and Black Lips’ Cole Alexander is still attractive as hell. Add Sergio Rotman from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and we can talk about a generational reconciliation that's alluring and romantic. So much in fact that we witness Nacional Records (still the most consolidated label around) endorsing its commercial light from the get-go (as opposed to other terrific indie releases like that of Astro and Rebeldes, which have been late-blooming acquisitions by the label). It’s inevitable not to think of Terror/Amor as eventful. But when the novelty of the collaborations wears off, we find a truly bold and round record that’s more compassionate and tender than the blood-spatter in the album cover is capable of outlining.
Invariably and narratively romantic, AJ Dávila is outspoken about Hip Hop influencing his composition more than rock & roll ever did. Such a claim is easy to sustain when album opener “Animal” bursts into the soundscape with an unsentimental assaultiveness hard to be justified by rock and roll or pop structures. It’s with this wide scope of cultural awareness and affection that AJ confronts improbable canvases. Because really, did anyone really anticipated the unlikely collaboration with Anwandter to sound so amorous and anthemic? We certainly didn’t. The fluidness of the collaborations is accomplished not only because every guest adheres to his or her assignment, but also because AJ understands that without acknowledging idiosyncratic, things could’ve appeared disaffected and disconnected. Not to say harmony was ever goal, but it's delicious to see vocal hooks, themes, and frenzied agency unfold with this amount of sensibility before our eyes.
In all of its many guises, Terror/Amor serves more than a cultural, collective purpose. The artistic choices made here have been designed by a mastermind, executing each idea with vigor and sharpness. Powerpop numbers “Dura Como Piedra” (feat. Selma Oxor) and “2333” (feat. Mercedes Oller of Las Robertas) show little concern for packaging boy-meets-girl vignettes, instead, favoring naked forms of tempo shifting and free-falling grace. Unbelievably catchy tracks like “Es Verano Ya” and “Ya Se” play off as emotional-pulling cards that in some way or another validate AJ Dávila as a pop music songwriter. There’s far more love than terror in Terror/Amor. The warmth of its construction pays off in a big way as we witness what could’ve been a sidekick/novelty record turn into an essential record to understanding the new wave of Iberoamerican rockers. Furthermore, it’s an album filled with catchy gems that embraces its terrorized visceral beauty and never rolls back into silence.