Electronic music has long loved its intergalactic fables, but Matias Aguayo’s Support Alien Invasion has nothing to do with science fiction. No “Cosmic Cars” or Deep Space here: The title of the Chilean-German producer’s fourth album is a repudiation of borders and a celebration of the freedom of movement. The album is a celebration of movement, full stop: Propelled by wave after wave of polyrhythmic hand percussion, these are some of the wriggliest, ripplingest drum tracks Aguayo has ever created.
Years ago, Aguayo was a member of Closer Musik, a duo whose winsome minimalism helped define the Kompakt label’s pop-ambient era. For the past 14 years, as a solo artist, he has gradually moved away from house and techno, at least as they’re typically understood, toward a more expansive—and inclusive—vision. He had a minor hit in 2008 with “Minimal,” a playful rebuke of minimal techno’s tick-tock tedium; on 2009’s Ay Ay Ay and 2013’s The Visitor he focused largely on his own voice, layering chants and beatboxed rhythms into supple Afro-Latin grooves.
Just as important as his stylistic innovations is what he’s accomplished with his label Cómeme (Spanish for “eat me”), which he and cofounder Avril Ceballos have spent a decade developing into a platform for alternative dance music from the margins of the global club scene. What began as a pan-Latin concern has gradually expanded to encompass artists from Johannesburg, Bucharest, and beyond. Support Alien Invasion is a co-release between Cómeme and Belgium’s Crammed Discs, which seems fitting; since 1981, Crammed has blurred the lines between the European avant-garde and its allies around the globe.
This is Aguayo’s first all-instrumental album, which might be surprising, given its political subtext. But the seriousness of the subject matter is plainly audible in the music’s steely tone. Aguayo’s productions have frequently flashed a sly sense of humor, but the mood here is driven, focused, heads-down. His drum programming is as slinky as ever, but there’s a newfound force to it; his drums could double as battering rams. Glowering rave stabs give “2019” the menacing air of European hardstyle over hard-charging polyrhythms that flout the hegemony of the four-to-the-floor groove. On “We Have Seen Another World,” the bass synth blares like a warship’s warning siren. “Insurgentes” is slow and menacing, made all the more ominous by the fact that there’s so little to it—just a side-winding, minor-key synth melody; in place of drums, just steady, time-keeping handclaps, as though the song’s titular guerrillas were counting down to a pre-dawn assault.
Some tracks are subtler. In the “The Fold,” the opening song, interwoven drums and queasy, carousel-like synth streaks establish the unsettling mood that permeates the album, drawing you deep into his imagined borderland. Tonally, it’s a little like stepping from brilliant sunlight into a shuttered room: Your eyes struggle to adjust to the gloom, but minuscule variations of gray soon become clear. Aguayo can be playful, too: The Errorsmith-like “Laisse-moi parler” is sculpted around a bass synth, halfway between a growl and a sigh, that writhes like an outlandish Claymation creation.
Whether in protest or celebration, the album could have benefited from some vocal tracks. “Between the Risings,” a gloomy drone cut, doesn’t add much to the overall picture, and by album’s end, Aguayo seems to run out of things that can be expressed with drums alone. One example of where he might have gone with this material can be found in his own single “Rain,” from late last year. Its shuffling triplet drums are cut from the same cloth, but there, he turned to a South African singer named Mujaji the Rain, a fixture on Johannesburg’s feminist and queer scene, whose woozily ecstatic vocals in English and Zulu—a supplication to the clouds, rain dance as erotic metaphor—make the song unusual. It’s not what she sings, but how she sings it: She intones her lines with an emotion so rapturous it feels almost dangerous; there’s a real sense of things spilling over, of a pleasure that can’t be contained. In its joyful patchwork of identities, the song invoked the kind of communal experience that can’t be restricted by lines on a map. At its best, Support Alien Invasion picks up that cry, wordlessly—a rain dance calling down the force that will wash all borders away.