Aether: Artifacts

The ever-reliable Texas label Exponential returns with a splendid set of instrumental hip-hop courtesy of San Antonio-based beat-maker Diego Chavez (aka Aether, A.M. Architect, Otic Angst). With sixteen tunes squeezed into a forty-two-minute running time, the graphic designer and music producer obviously wastes no time cutting to the chase throughout his first full-length solo album Artifacts. Chavez sprinkles his dusted sample-heavy collages with tasty vocal hooks and lush melodies and grounds them with a fresh and gritty boom-bap bounce. The album starts off on a high with the crackle-drenched sea of “Forgive Me” where strings, female vocals, and an enticing electric piano hook collectively swim, and then shifts rapidly from one set-piece to another. In no time at all, we find ourselves basking in the folk-hop shuffle and silken female vocals of “Anywhere” plus the dreamy electric piano playing and crisp rolling beats of “Autumn Pisces.” A track as forward-thinking as “Orfeu Negro,” with its head-spinning mix of Spanish guitar, slinky beatsmithing, and equally heady vocal hooks, points Aether in Flying Lotus's direction while other cuts suggest affinities with Michna and Prefuse 73. The voice shredding, staggered beats, and trippy, multi-layered arrangement that comprise “Makeshift Sanctuary” even calls to mind the fearless beat experimentalism of J Dilla. At times, recognizable traces of Chavez's plunder rises to the surface—he dresses the piano melody from Sakamoto's “Bibo No Aozora” (featured in Babel ) in hip-hop gear during “Variance,” for example—but for the most part he draws a fairly careful veil over the source material. Nevertheless, Artifacts should provide instrumental hip-hop fans with lots of fresh and high-quality material to dig into.

January 2009