It's not a new complaint, but a particularly frustrating aspect of the always-evolving electronic-music spectrum is how quickly trends can be started, initially used for good, repeated across the board by legions of copycats, and eventually become hopelessly overworked. The pace of this disheartening process has only quickened over the years, but, alas, there are always names ready to carry the torch and push the envelope just enough to find fresh, new ground. San Gabriel, the solo project of Pit Er Pat co-founder Butchy Fuego (who has also served as a notable drummer/studio man for the likes of Nite Jewel, Rainbow Arabia, Nguzunguzu, and Julia Holter), appears poised to be one of those figures, offering a debut LP that is rewardingly unexpected and consistently inventive.
Clearly, San Gabriel has soaked up a good deal of influence from his contemporaries and collaborators, and VOLFE finds him drawing from the space-age sounds, chops, and rhythms often associated with his fellow Angelenos from the Fade to Mind crew. Similar to Kingdom and Nguzunguzu, San Gabriel has an ability to build infectious patterns from what at first appear to be bizarre combinations of elements. The drums on VOLFE usually begin on the off-kilter side of things, bouncing in a jagged fashion before eventually locking together into more familiar rhythms, but never reducing to something as simple as a straight four-on-the-floor progression. In the same way, the more musical elements here rarely fall where one would expect. The line between mangled chords and straight-up sound FX can be a blurry one on songs like the endlessly propulsive "Club Mate" or the stoner-paced "Z Trail," which, in the end, is strangely reminiscent of a Matthewdavid production (minus the gobs of fuzz and with a bit more of a gangster lean thrown in for good measure). Even when the tracks incorporate more melodic elements, they seem to fill a place amongst the rhythmic concoction as much as they aim to supply any sort of mood to the effort. For instance, tracks like "Gore Text" and the aforementioned "Club Mate" utilize upper-register sounds—the former featuring a tuned, pipe-like tone, and the latter a dry, simple synth line—that simultaneously add a layer of percussion and melody to the tune. Surely, the more traditionally musical aspects of the songs on the LP are not the focus, though they still greatly add to the whole sonic package.
VOLFE is a fast-moving expedition, especially for the long-player format. Featuring only an eight-song tracklist that covers just over 30 minutes of audio, the record moves at an accelerated pace. The first five tracks run briskly along the fringes of club music, slowing down its stride for the sunken, swirling "Experimental Forest" before landing on the record's most out-there endeavor, "Can't Work." From there, San Gabriel takes us on a bit of an unexpected turn, closing the record out with a trio of Latin-rooted beats. "Montaña de Tormenta," "Batalla Ultima," and "Sabor Sabor" all fall along the lines of ZZK-style digital cumbia, but with an added crunch and a flair for the bizarre.
It's a testament to Fuego's career that he has played a vital role on such an impressive list of forward-thinking outfits across a wide range of genres, but this LP proves he is capable of doing similarly noteworthy things on his own, too. And with VOLFE as our first impression of his solo project, we're left hoping he continues to find time to explore his own inclinations.