L’Estat Natural, Univers
by Carlos Reyes
Unlike what Almost Famous thought to early milleanials, writing about rock music is the least exciting duty for the modern pop music journalist (nowadays bloggers). While our staff fights over who gets to review the latest pop album from Chile, reviewing rock music is often a chore. Unless you have controversy behind a band (or have the spectacle of a frontman at hand), the structure of a rock band reduces the room to approach music through personal or auteur lens. At least once a year, a rock record comes along and triggers an emotional vein that breaks any writer’s block and resorts the romance between fuzzy guitar chords and the shameless pop slut (that being me this time around). L’estat Natural is that album for me this year.
Recent triumphs for the rock genre (Ases Falsos, Bam Bam) have been either escapisms or cultural blueprints. Univers’ first full-length record L’estat Natural, much like Él Mató a un Policía Motorizado's La Dinastia Scorpio, comes from a different manufacturing –rock music that is gentle, personal, benevolent and woefully emotional. It’s not that I would describe rock music as cold, but the rock posture venerated by pop culture has way too many sons and daughters yearning the promised luxury of rock and roll. L’estat Natural benefits from this cultural friction. It’s a record that feels simultaneously borrowed and new. Where melody breathes and travels through the haze. The songs are anguished and longing, but not in the hot pursuit for privileged platforms but rather with the purpose of marrying the pleasantness of pop structure with the noise and aesthetics of shoegaze. Nothing is particularly catchy here, yet everything resonates.
Not that the members of Univers sat down and thought about the zeitgeist this meticulously. When confronted by a song as rapturous as “Estatua En Moviment” one has to wonder if the band was even conscious they eclipsed the pop-structured first half of the song with a post-punk juggernaut on its counterpart. Artistic endeavor sure goes a long way. What separates Univers from many of its white noise contemporaries is their ability to rapture and roll back into silence. The dynamic seems simple enough, but really, few bands can march and cross the sunlight (“Travessant La Llum Del Sol”) and collect themselves with such disarming restraint and warmth. If you find yourself singing along to the catchier tracks of the album ("Iceberg" and "Minerals"), and you’re as estranged with Catalan as most of us, embrace it. Transgressive music takes no shortcuts to manifest its greatness.
Greatness is not the most suitable word to describe the first album by Univers. As giant as might get to be at times, it's a record that has a small-scale realism to it –its detachment from social anxieties puts the light on what fellow Fonograma critic Pierre Lestruahut referred to as “that unequivocal gorgeousness of those true bare bones post-punk classics.” At 33 minutes long, L’Estat Natural unfolds quickly and gracefully. It isn’t that the album discloses its beauty unobtrusively, it’s missing risk and uniqueness to touch elbows with say, the two first albums by Triángulo de Amor Bizarro. But that doesn’t stop it from being one hell of a knockout. An even greater achievement considering this is Univers' debut. Call it rock music, shoegaze, white noise, or post-punk, the breaking and sheltering of up-tempo guitars rarely sounds this gorgeous. It’s earnest and an interlocking romance.