Before the pandemic normalised my working week with most days spent WFH as standard, I’d often stream Spotify through the TV. I’m not entirely sure how I managed this trick, since the last time I tried, the TV wasn’t having any of it (or perhaps it was the app that was throwing a strop). Either way the solution wasn’t immediately apparent within three minutes, the maximum time I’m willing to give to troubleshooting IT problems before throwing in the towel with disgust. 

Though that habit feels like one from a lifetime ago, I have a distinctly clear memory of listening to Ensayo De Un Desaparecido on a Saturday morning, specifically, the moment I realised that it was a complete reworking of Xenophanes. I was moved to pull the lever of happiness* and nearly launched into a solo dance of joy. Unfortunately, that joy was almost immediately crushed like so many generic cornflakes pummelled into dust for crappy homemade granola bars, because I had no one to be the Larry to my Balki.

Since then, I’ve become accustomed to wearing headphones clamped on for the best part of the day. I’m either at home and noise-cancelling the ambient sounds of the washing machine, leaf-blowers and the like, or at the office and cancelling out the ambient sounds of chattering colleagues’ Teams calls. There are obvious cons to this self-contained aural bubble, but I do honestly believe that some music demands to be experienced via headphones for the intimacy and seclusion they afford that external speakers can’t provide.  

Ensayo is the epitome of headphones albums and one that I’ve been obsessed with for quite a while. It dominated my Spotify Wrapped to the point where I posited that my propensity to listen to it daily (and sometimes twice-daily) might qualify me for residence in some kind of a home. I remain firmly of the belief that Xenophanes cannot be much improved upon, but Ensayo reworks this material with crystalline attention to detail, delivering a sublime juxtaposition of stark and densely layered material. If forced to adhere to a traditional ranking system, I would mark this as one my shifting #1 ORL solo records.

Ensayo is the antidote for all the muddy production and vexing vocal effects I’ve been kvetching about in relation to various mid-era records. Apart from the very occasional and extremely mild delay, the vocals here are unaltered, and this lack of dressing adds a vulnerability to ORL’s lovely tenor. Where Xenophanes is a kaleidoscope of shifting colours and fractals, Ensayo is a magic eye image in grayscale; you need to work for a hot minute to process the textures.

I’m not surprised to note the personnel is limited to himself for most of the instruments, barring, as (generally) always, Deantoni Parks on drums. I wonder if this is because Ensayo is the reclaiming through a self-reflective lens an album that was recorded as a tribute to his musical and (at the time) life partners; the liner notes for Xenophanes advise, This album is dedicated to and exists in celebration of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Ximena Sariñana Rivera who have always believed in me and pushed me to be my true self. Thank you. Whatever the motivation for such a transformative revision, the result is heartbreakingly beautiful and, as such, makes it nearly impossible to choose my favourite songs.

I’ve eliminated the final four tracks from consideration because, as with their counterparts on Xenophanes, they act as movements in a larger piece and can’t be separated without losing cohesion. Again, as with Xenophanes, the album builds up to this denouement. There honestly aren’t enough chefs’ kisses for the passion and intensity; every single note, every tiny gasp, every trilled ‘r’ is heartbreakingly beautiful. My hyperbole chip has nearly melted, but I honestly mean it. I hate to** roll out that old chestnut again, but I unconditionally love Ensayo as much as I hate Despair.

Headphones are particularly essential for “Nocturna Luz”. It wouldn’t ruin the song to miss the tiny, barely there intake of breath that precedes the soft plink of piano, but that small sound fills a huge space with emotional resonance. As the tempo gradually increases, a gorgeous half-beat elegantly introduces the guitar. The two instruments nest like yin and yang and gently set back down where that almost imperceptible breath started. Although “Amanita Virosa”, the Xenophanes counterpart, wasn’t the first track, this arrangement is very obviously an album opener.

My favourite song on Xenophanes is “Desarraigo”, so perhaps unsurprisingly I am completely smitten with its counterpart “Un Abismo Bendito”. Soaring synthy keys and Deantoni’s elevated drumming drive home the pain of lyrics no me des confianza  / esconde toda decepción / lleno de pura distancia / el hueco que es mi cara or, as the machine translation gives, don’t trust me / hide all disappointment / full of pure distance / the hole that is my face. ORL’s vocals are just as passionate as Ximena Sariñana’s power pipes and inject a new interpretation of the concept.

“El Arte de Fracasar” is probably the most similar to its Xenophanes counterpart in spirit in that it’s a densely textured anthem packed with cymbal-smashy mayhem but builds up to its apex much more gradually into a sultry pop song. ORL’s seductive vocals are punctuated by loud silences between beats before the resumption of the stompy fandango between keyboards and guitar. There’s a sensuality so palatable as to be almost visible, sarcastically advising qué lindo es fallar, a smirking aside that slays at the final drop. My only complaint is that I wish it lingered in the boudoir just a little bit longer. If there ever was an ORL song that made me feel Ways About Stuff, it’s this one. In fact, I run the gamut of relevant textural emotions during the course of this record: sexful, weepy, and joyous, sometimes all at once. 

Although it initially presented as low-key, Ensayo is not averse to Getting The Led Out every once in a while, even if it is relatively subdued compared to the Dionysian frenzy of Xenophanes. When it does rock out, there are some subversively funky disco licks hidden between soaring synthy strings. The Electra complex concept has taken a backseat to a narrative based on a slow frog-boil of increasing complexity and textual layering. There’s not a single part of this I would change nor an aspect I can fault. 

* The gesture I mean is making a fist with an outstretched arm and snapping it back toward yourself. Another distant but weirdly very distinctly clear memory is establishing the name of this gesture at length with a highschool chum, which is where we dubbed it the lever of happiness. At this time, we also confirmed that the lever of happiness was on a spring, thus necessitating that it is pulled again when triggered by another joyful moment (the spring also ensures that the lever need not be pushed back to its original, pre-joy position).

** Will this for-real be the last time I dunk on Despair? Don’t open a book.

Track listing:

Ensayo De Un Desaparecido


Nocturna Luz

Amanita Virosa

Nubes Sin Agua 

Ojo al Cristo de Plata


Ojo al Cristo de Plata

Un Abismo Bendito


El Arte de Fracasar 

Asco Que Conmueve los Puntos Erógenos

Ojos Negros

Mundo de Ciegos

Deseos Para Quemar 


Vidrio De La Fe 

Perder el Arte de la Razón sin Mover un Sólo Dedo

Besos Secretos

Flores de Cizaña

La Orilla 

Maria Celeste