n5MD has become one of the most interesting
labels around. Why? Because of their output. Put simply, they
make interesting products. The lion's share of the n5MD roster
could all claim to be IDM or downtempo, but yet somehow not
quite. The mashes and cut ups are there, but mood, texture,
and emotion remain the true objectives. This is why n5MD are
so deserving of cult status. Already responsible for several
bona fide classics such as Last
Days' Sea, the
label consistently manages to release works which arrow straight
to the heart, rather than the head, or feet. We can be sure
to experience an emotional response with these artists, be
it tension, exhilaration or melancholy.
And such melancholy.
Where does Damiak (Mexico City born Abe Dichi) fit into this picture? I'd say in the middle, (wait for it…) without being "central". In having a distinctly modern approach to creating moving music, Damiak typifies the label ethos. Yet Damiak is also a slightly ragged and chaotic at times - a little on the edge. Somehow I love the curveballs this album throws me. Tall Hat Greeting begins a step away from label-mate Arc-Lab with its rain-splash keys. Surprise move #1 is the appearance of melodion (harmonium?). Surprise move #2: as this song enters its third minute, tension cranking up to almost unbearable levels, Damiak pulls away from the obvious, clichéd post-rock, ending and simply ends the track, segueing into the digitized piano meander, Iridescent wings. The whole album will continue to wrong-foot listeners in this way. Perhaps the corn-fed electronica contingent won't get Damiak for these reasons. Be warned then, Micalavera (my skeleton) won't hold your hand for this promenade.
The by-word seems to be "organic", but this album will always throw in a reminder
of its synthetic heart if we try getting too cosy. The staggering Tepid
coat feels like a return to the drama of Tall Hat Greeting - a dark
IDM nursery rhyme or giddy fairground ride of a track. This time the pay off
comes and our whirling carousel will eventually have screaming child passengers
holding on for grim life. Extended Slide is an oddity. Seemingly aimless,
Damiak suddenly throws in some squeaky violin not unlike the piercing work
of A Silver Mount Zion. As I said earlier, it's
a tad difficult to get a handle on where this is taking us. The following two
pieces pile on further confusion as we hop from Cajun to baroque. Faificun is
on hand to rescue us, mixing dynamics from Mogwai and New
Order into its electronic pot. The drums almost
sound live. I should know that they aren't, but it's a fine track, as is Step
Behind the Yellow Line which follows.
As I reach the closing track Cualidades (which is achingly beautiful, by the way), I remain unconvinced of Damiak's intentions. Does he even know himself? Micalavera is a warm album punctuated with non-sequators, which will surely test the patience of the trigger-happy, remote control wielding "now"-generation. The fact that this record remains so exciting and impressive DESPITE its aimlessness suggests that far greater things are well within Damiak's grasp. For what this adds up to is one stunning (in places) nearly album, and I'd take that over any competent but average work any day of the week, thank you.