Ernest Gonzales: Natural Traits
I hesitate to say that Ernest Gonzales' Natural Traits is better than I expected it would be as that sounds like so much damning with faint praise. But, straight up, while I figured the album would be good, I was surprised to discover just how uniformly strong it is. As a producer, Gonzales (aka Mexicans With Guns) clearly has all his cards in order. The songs' arrangements are spot-on—rich but not overloaded—, the ten compositions are satisfyingly structured, and his technical command of the gear involved, whether it be a conventional instrument or digital technology, is clearly evident. A seamless fusion of analogue and digital worlds, the album also is noteworthy for being a production wholly free of samples.
It's nicely sequenced, too, with its slow-building opener, “The Prudence of Evolution” gradually growing in force and urgency in its insistent mix of bright synth stabs, 8-bit melodic patterns, and syncopated beat pattern. Powered by a house-flavoured four-on-the-floor rhythm and enriched with all manner of synthetic sparkle, the radiant floor-filler “When Synchronicity Prevails” impresses as some blissed-out fusion of post-rock and trance-house. Other tracks offer variations on the theme, with the emphasis shifting slightly more to the one side than the other on a given track; while there are dance elements in play in its pulsating groove, “Beneath the Surface,” for example, gravitates slightly more to the post-rock end of the spectrum. The San Antonio producer shows he's perfectly up to the challenge of crafting a seductive club anthem when the mood strikes, as “The Scattered Thoughts of Raindrops” shows in its sparkling blend of deep house rhythms and synthetic touches. Exuberant throwdowns like “The Heroic Lives of Particles” and “In the End,” on the other hand, are full-on plunges into hot-wired synth-funk and all the better for it, and, as a bonus, we're treated to an album-ending Dntel remix of “When Synchronicity Prevails.”
Admittedly, Natural Traits isn't a game-changer and neither is it exceptionally innovative. But what recommends the recording is Gonzales' gift for graceful, melodic songcraft and expert production skills, not to mention the fact that the album weighs in at just under forty minutes and so never wears out its welcome.