Closing one’s eyes while listening to Mas Aya—the pseudonym of multi-instrumentalist and producer Brandon Valdivia—brings to mind the free form of an expressionist painting. On the latest LP, Máscaras, palettes of traditional flutes perch above off-kilter drum loops and metamorphosize into an esoteric and cinematic journey. There’s a bit of tension throughout the whole LP, which makes sense, as Valdivia is sonically sparking the ideals of revolution—specifically the real-life revolutions in 1970s Nicaragua, the country he was born in.
Voiceovers in Spanish from an unknown guerilla call for the present moment for upheaval, while a rhythmic electronic beat makes itself known on “Momento Presente.” The melodies are in service of the percussion, while the sparse harmonies hold every song together. It’s a difficult task to have every musical aspect flow so free and concretely at the same time, but Mas Aya achieves this with ease. Listening to the whole album is transcendental, but you have to make sure you’re free from all distraction. It’s just you and the music. The repetition of synths and drum loops, mixed with the stalactite drips on “Key,” gives a feeling of astral projection—an ambiance I haven’t felt since Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children.
There’s a beautiful violence to a track like “18 de Abril,” as crashes and untimed drums pound and a hoarse woman calls to her mother for vague aid (the vocals are almost indecipherable). Finally, “Tiempo Ahora,” the only vocal-heavy track, featuring experimental R&B artist Lido Pimienta, gives a feeling of complete calm and meditative stillness.
Máscaras is an album that should be a solitary walk, perhaps at night, and then dissected in a group like some sort of archaic mass. Regardless, something this spiritual only comes around once in awhile.