Fantasy is power metal with a sword, sci-fi is noir-jazz pop with a portal to another dimension. The latter is perhaps only a surface level understanding of ¡Ay!, the conceptually mesmerizing new album from Lucrecia Dalt, but admit it: You’re intrigued. Throughout her career, the Colombian-born, Berlin-based artist’s music has seemed like a kind of alchemy, making malleable forms that might otherwise seem rigid, whether through catalyzed melodies from dark atmospheric clouds on No erá solida, the fluidic prickles of terror on her score for The Seed, or the sculpting of pop songs from sonic detritus on her 2021 collaboration with noise collagist Aaron Dilloway, Lucy and Aaron. That playful unpredictability yields her most rewarding work yet with ¡Ay!, weaving surrealistic metaphysical threads through a breathtaking set of art pop that pulse with the rhythms of bolero and salsa.
Through the 10 songs on ¡Ay!, Dalt seems to bend the fabric of time and space, simultaneously through its narrative of an otherworldly visitor who channels time through her “glandular gate,” as she described it, as well as through an unlikely exercise in curious nostalgia. Dalt draws on styles of music she grew up hearing in her native Colombia—as well as delivering her first set of songs written exclusively in Spanish since 2013’s Syzygy—exploring a kind of memory portal she opened herself in the early days of the pandemic, yielding haunting pieces from an aesthetic palette that’s neither fixed nor tonally obvious in pursuit of futuristic sounds. Yet by allowing greater depth and space within these rhythmic and textural motifs, she offers an appreciation for the traditional while showcasing imaginative new pathways for those very same traditional elements.
There’s nothing particularly overt or overbearing about the thematic elements around which these songs are bound. Sometimes even a surface level reading only yields more questions; in the gorgeously romantic opening track “No tiempo,” Dalt sings, “Rompiendo a través de mi portal glandular/Te traigo la visión desde el no tiempo,” which, when translated, means “Breaking down through my glandular data gates/I bring you the view from nowhen.” And in its video, Dalt depicts the album’s extraterrestrial protagonist Preta as she experiences the world sensorially, licking a rock on Galatzó Mountain in Mallorca. She dances and floats against a breathtaking backdrop, seemingly falling in love with becoming corporeal as imagistic and sonic representations of pure beauty surround her.
The compositions on ¡Ay! are boundless without being wholly maximalist, each one rife with detail and richly arranged. Listening to a song like “El Galatzó,” with its spoken-word delivery, clacking percussion and subtly rearranged bits of strings and horns, seems to evoke the feeling of following Preta’s lead in attempting to comprehend the landscape through tactile sensation. That landscape grows more curious and eerily beautiful the deeper one goes, whether through the darkly mesmerizing bolero of “Atemporal,” the cinematic hypnosis of “Enviada,” or the manner in which the abstract exotica of “Contenida” is interrupted by warped metal clang, as if temporal or dimensional walls have indeed begun to fold and fracture within the span of a single song. The destination of each song or thread can rarely be discerned from the outset, but the road to get there is littered with countless stunning surprises.
The root of the simple message of curiosity and seemingly pure revelations about experience and existence on ¡Ay! is wrapped in lyrical declarations that often seem cryptic (“Snakes know no time/I can taste its magnetic field“; “time itself is a transitory form, of which eternity will one day do without“). Dalt herself recognizes the labyrinthine intangibility of some of the concepts she explores; “Sometimes I read the lyrics and I’m like, ‘God, this is so insane,'” she said in a recent NPR interview. And yet, there’s a universality at the core of its ideas of connection, exploration and even rediscovery. ¡Ay! can sometimes feel like being dropped into an unfamiliar landscape, but feeling your way through it is a stirring, rewarding experience.
Label: RVNG Intl
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.