Photographs of Matias Aguayo—like the music the man makes—give the impression of a rogue, one who has wheeled off the well-grooved routes in favor of as yet uncharted territories. Yet, as regards the music, this seems more the result of necessity than any willful attempt to just be different. Aguayo’s muse is strange but generous and wherever it leads him proves fertile ground. As half of Closer Musik, the other being Dirk Leyers, Aguayo helped to define the boundaries of “the Kompakt sound”—ambient minimal, maybe?— with standout tracks like “One Two Three (No Gravity)”, “Maria” and “Departures.” The duo’s work sounds as fresh now as any techno made in the early half of the oughts, but Aguayo has moved far afield since then, even taking the time in 2008 to knock out an anti-minimal anthem entitled, fittingly, “Minimal.”
“Minimal” was remixed into an even better and more infectious shape by DJ Koze, someone who may very well have sympathized with Aguayo’s lambasting of minimal for having no groove or balls. In many ways, Koze is the closest analogue to Aguayo, as both, having had success with them in the past, continue to forcefully break apart the rooted structures of techno and house and rearrange them, replacing elements with unlikely source material and generally disregarding genre boundaries (something many are giving lip service to but few are managing to accomplish). Aguayo continues to utilize the utilitarian organization of dance tracks but by smuggling in more organic elements nods not only to American and European pop music, but to South American rhythms and textures.
The most important instrument on Ay Ay Ay is Aguayo himself, his voice, twisted, remodulated, chopped to bits and reassembled. First single “Rollerskate” features layers of Aguayo, track upon track of his vocals woven into a hypnotic swirl atop a kick drum, bassline and handclaps. But from these minimal elements Aguayo fashions a full sound, one intricacy wrapped around the next until things wander into a tripped out forest of voices, breaking apart the false duality between minimal and “maximal,” affects belying materials. The trick is one Aguayo used on the excellent electro-pop single “Walter Neff,” another 2008 release that foreshadowed the direction taken on Ay Ay Ay.
While the elements across the 11 songs are consistent, Ay Ay Ay manages to travel to some strange and diverse territory. “Koro Koro” is blissed-out Afrobeat, Aguayo’s voice floating in multiple directions at once before a drum machine kicks in and then, later, a pulsing bassline that merges the club with the beach as the man makes some wacked airplane noises. Closer “Juanita” is a throbbing booty-shaker, with accordion, that somehow conjures the infinite skies of the pampas (at least for someone who has read a lot of Borges but never made it to Argentina), while album opener “Menta Latte” is very much in the lineage of “Neff,” forcefully spinning techno rhythmic ins and outs into the skeleton for a pop song from another dimension, carried by the mad threads of Aguayo’s imagination.
Honestly, I have no idea how many people this record will appeal to. It is definitely out there, though its wigged-out sounds can be enjoyed wherever they may happen to be heard. The more I listen to it, the more I appreciate Aguayo’s approach to making music at the end of this decade, his ability to embrace digital production methods but to use human elements and more remote musical traditions to create something both strange and comforting, weird and somehow an apt expression of the moment to which it belongs.