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Feb 21

Omargeddon #18: Un Corazón de Nadie

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To suggest that delivering three albums over a twelve-month period indicates a slow year would normally be ridiculous, but for Omar Rodríguez-López fans, 2012 probably felt a bit like an old-timey cowboy actor (i.e. Slim Pickens). To give this a bit more context, 2009 saw six releases and 2010 seven, which in turn now appears positively tame compared to the glorious twenty-three-record bounty of 2016/17 as part of Ipecac Recordings’ back catalogue clearout bonanza. According to the liner notes, Un Corazón De Nadie (“Nobody’s Heart”) “was completed in November of 2010, and then sat in the wild strawberries vault until its release in May of 2012.” For material to sit around brewing for a couple years before becoming available isn’t unusual for ORL records, but for all of the releases in a given year to have a unifying genre, in this case electronica, certainly is.

Both Wikipedia and contemporaneous reviews refer to Un Corazón De Nadie as the first in a trilogy of electronica-influenced albums, followed by Saber, Querer, Osar y Callar and Octopus Kool Aid. The production is coarse, rather than the cotton-wool fuzziness present on other effects-laden, synthy, mid-era ORL records. It too is drenched with effects but is comparatively more polished – somewhere between Tychozorente and Unicorn Skeleton Mask. Songs are a lyrical mix of Spanish and English, interspersed with instrumental segues as is usual for his electronic music. This collage-y nature is also reflected in the cover art, a photo composition done by his mother (and possibly featuring her holding baby Omar), who passed away the year of this release.

I hadn’t heard Un Corazón De Nadie until relatively recently, though I had heard the songs “Mono” and “Querer” on the live album Chocolate Tumor Hormone Parade. It took me a few listens to realise this, as the live versions are earbleeding, guitar-shredding freakouts with vocals teetering on the cusp of mania (he sounds unhinged; it’s fucking exhilarating and a tiny bit scary). However, the album versions are much more understated.

“Mono” is evocative of a cleaner Unicorn Skeleton Mask track stripped of its guitar. “Querer” features some interestingly thick beats, hampered slightly by a smattering of vocal fry, although nothing that’s too grating. But the originals were always going to suffer in comparison to what will always be in my heart of rockist hearts the canon live interpretation. That’s not to say I dislike them or this album, but I guess I’m simply whelmed – not over or under. I suspect this is because the overall composition is a balance of scratchy and smooth. And yet, at times that balance is knocked out of kilter when the sounds compete texturally, which is often enough too annoying to overlook. This doesn’t happen on the live versions, because the sheer intensity of the vocal performance acts like an anchor to the mayhem.

As in his earlier electronic music, the tracks share samples and sequences that are splintered across the album. “Esperar” is lots of low-key vworp, like flocked wallpaper with a muted kaleidoscopic pattern, more robotrip than acid tab. “Tres”, on the other hand, is juddering and drilly, with the vocal pitch smashing ineffectively through the cacophony. Sputnikmusic’s review chose this as “the typical paradigm of the album. It is nothing more than an arrangement of psychedelic effects that serve no other further purpose than to create a disorienting experience”. “Hez” and “Adios” also contain shrill squally vocals plus the hated helium balloon effect I massively dislike, but “Tiburón” (which may also feature on Unicorn Skeleton Mask in some form, though I’ve given up all hope of confirming due to that record’s impenetrable production) is exactly the kind of comforting background music I find ideal to work by.

And then there’s the more actively enjoyable material. “Ocho” manages to pull off high-pitched vocals better than other songs on the record. There’s more obvious emotion present, complemented by the pulsing (heart)beat. I’m a bit of a sucker for a two-for-the-price-of-one song, so I enjoy the ol’ switcheroo around the three-minute mark. The initial squelch flips into a slightly more aggressive synth, with a subtle but effective shift in emotional heft.

“Colmillo” is my favourite kind of sweetly ethereal synth, a comfort blanket that sighs into softness. But you have to work a bit to get there; the samey bleep of the intro is perfectly timed to build up and roll over into a  switched-on-Bach-esque electric organ. I think it would be like if I enjoyed ASMR instead of wanting to rip my face off at the thought of *shudder* whispering. The payoff for this slightly tetchy intro is more than worth it, like diving into a freezing lake on a hot day – the two extremes balance each other out.

With the benefit of time and the ability to measure Un Corazón De Nadie in comparison with later electronic albums, I know that I prefer his later, more polished efforts. It’s very much a mid-table ranking with enough for me to love and want to return to, and enough vexing tintinnabulations to make me want to switch it off. The gritty production works very well, and the fact that ORL is credited with the whole shebang (vocals, synthesizers, sequencing, programming, guitar, bass, live drums, piano, samples, and production) never ceases to impress. Like with my beef concerning Octopus Kool Aid, it’s not so much that I actively dislike it, but that compared to other similar music of this era, it feels lacking in depth and has too many wincey instances of frustration. Select tracks are lovely enough to keep me returning, and now that I have a trilogy to contextualise it in, I will do so more than I have been.

Track listing:
Mono
Ocho
Tiburón
Esperar
Colmillo
Querer
Tres
Vencer
Hez
Adiós

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