Mabe Fratti creates music that can feel like it’s rebuilding itself mid-song. Instruments become entangled in abstract, ornate architecture, taking on strange and fascinating shapes, the constant presence of her voice and layered cello providing not so much an anchor but a guide to follow as the landscape continues to shift. It’s rich music that offers the illusion of gentleness, strains of ambient and chamber music coursing through her catalog, but often takes an off-kilter turn into a bewitching kind of disorientation. Finding your bearings is sometimes just as much part of the experience as surrendering to its most harmonious climaxes.
Working in collaboration with Hector Tosta, aka i la Católica, as one half of the Mexico City duo Titanic, Fratti allows the music to untangle and reveal itself through more gentle and graceful movements. In the broadest sense possible, the eight songs on their debut album Vidrio operate in a similar manner as those on albums such as Fratti’s Se ve desde aquí from last year, but the landscapes change only gradually, the duo working out an idea with patience and stillness, getting comfortable in sequences that operate in more of a minimalist fashion, sometimes changing dramatically only when an idea already feels settled—upsetting structures and established norms in playful fashion.
Loosely speaking, Titanic’s compositions more explicitly resemble pop songs than those of Fratti’s more intricate and abstract solo works. “Pop” is a relative term here; the ascending piano and moments of solo voice and open space in “Palacio” aren’t locked into a structure bound by hooks or rhythm, only in its final 30 seconds congealing into a gorgeously elaborate piece of buoyant jazz pop. Album opener “Anonima” is more immediate but by no means conventional, the movements of Fratti’s cello like that of lungs breathing in and out as her voice spirals to higher registers, culminating in a heavy, staccato punch of piano and drums in its chorus. “Cielo Falso,” the album’s longest song at more than seven and a half minutes, never seems to go anywhere in any particular hurry, only twice during its extended duration rising up from its stark and open repetitions into a lush pop chorus, a punctuation to the architectural ambience of its verses rather than a resolution.
In the most fascinating and often rewarding moments on Vidrio, Titanic sink several shades deeper into a jazz-informed noir, indulging in a haunting looseness that nonetheless maintains their commitment to giving every moment its due space. The stunning “Hotel Elizabeth,” juxtaposes brushed drums and plucked bass string against squeals of saxophone that changes texture of the duo’s music more than the shape. It’s raw and confrontational as much as it is cool or sensual. Standout “Te Viste” similarly spirals into a dizzying bass groove in 5/4, as eerie drones creak in and out like the hull of an ancient vessel, climaxing with Fratti’s repetitions of “Claro que te vi” (“It’s clear you are there”). It’s thrilling and disorienting, escalating in tension, increasingly elaborate even as its various moving parts are caught in a kind of overheated loop.
It’s within the climactic closer “Balanza,” punctuated again by Jarrett Gilgore’s squealing saxophone, that Fratti and Tosta find their edge at its sharpest. Where much of the album feels like a place of serenity, a sanctuary within the hectic atmosphere of their outside metropolis or alternately the site of a secret tryst, “Balanza” cranks up the tension and anxiety, a reframing of the duo’s artful approach to careful and magnificently detailed experimental pop music. The presence of thorns makes the garden they’ve cultivated no less exquisite.
Label: Unheard of Hope/Tin Angel
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.