Genre groupings in modern electronica continue to splinter. Chilean producer Ricardo Villalobos’s vision of (micro)house on The au Harem d’Archimede, his second full-length, is an ethnically inclined set of subdued electro bubblings balanced by manually percussive jungle jams. As the newest slight variation on a time-worn principle, he and other proponents of this extremely minimal style of house traffic in little outright aural ornamentation such as recognizable vocals or melody. In this sense, they collapse dance music in on itself, removing almost every major element except the insistent one-two bass-drum beat. Still, the essence of such material relies heavily on the brief, accentuated phrases that swirl around the music’s rhythmic anchor.
Though working within a firmly established formula, Villalobos retains his singular fingerprint with a sound closer to ambient house than straightforward dance music. Even as his beats dominate the landscape, they support the endless layers of sparse sound texture that hover together as one to define each individual backing track. Opener “Hireklon” begins the album in top form, entering as a low bass throb before rising to the forefront on a wave of incredible skewed nylon-guitar wrangling. Settling in among various delays and timed echoes, these shifting flakes of classical discord add organic evidence of the human hand to Villalobos’s digital palate.
“Serpentin” is a more pronounced, dance-oriented track. It enters much like the opening number but soon streamlines around a concise synthesizer riff that is folded and shifted within the rhythm. “Forallseasons” fills its sonic spaces with hand-drum rolls and barely-audible electronic scratches that sound curiously spontaneous for a house track. The title song is perhaps the album’s most interesting cut, beginning as a soft marimba pattern covered in phase washes and gradually assuming a steady beat over seven minutes of support from organ chords and claps.
The au Harem d’Archimede, though exceptionally consistent, never completely returns to its early thematic plateau, and the icy vocals of closer “True to Myself” sound particularly stark when raked over Villalobos’s sparest drum-machine patterns. On the whole, minimal house music often suffers from excessive stylistic monotony (though any single genre could conceivably bear this criticism.) But in a style similar to Jan Jelinek’s work as Farben or Matthew Herbert’s various house incarnations, Villalobos has crafted an album that makes for a perfectly serviceable lounge house set when run through the background of a particular scene. But upon further inspection it calls for repeated listens, allowing the listener to unravel the various layers of its subtlety.