Murcof: Remembranza

In the hands of Tijuana-based Fernando Corona, a formula that could amount to little more than kitsch—classical samples crossed with minimal tech-house rhythms and subtly swathed in electronic treatments—turns compelling, captivating, and, yes, artful. Excluding Utopia, last year's collection of new material and remixes, Remembranza is Corona's Murcof follow-up to 2002's acclaimed Martes. While the first recording drew upon the works of Arvo Pärt, Henryck Górecki, and Giya Kancheli, the latest one weaves traditional sounds of piano, harp, and strings recorded especially for the album into a 55-minute suite of mournful grandeur. Essentially six longish pieces interspersed with three ghostly interludes (“Resignacíon” indicative of the prevailing mood), the material's spacious character gives the classical elements ample room to breathe, while the samples imbue the cool machine timbres with an emotional dimension they might otherwise lack.

Haunted phantoms drift through Murcof's dark spaces. A mood of sombre gravity emerges when Corona drapes string shudders and brooding piano chords over softly clanking rhythms in the funereal “Recuerdos” while a harrowing, even nightmarish ambiance dominates “Razón” as keening strings swell over a percolating stream of pinched rustlings and static. The longest piece, the nine-minute “Reflejo,” unfurls dense waves of strings, ivory sprinkles, and haunting motifs over progressively more animated tech-house beats punctuated by the pounding accent of intermittent timpani. Though the quality of the material's construction is never in question and Corona's talent for sustaining mood impresses too, the recording is diminished by hewing so faithfully to a singular oppressive ambiance and by limiting its instrumental palette to strings, piano, and beats. When Corona extends Remembranza's rhythmic range with punchy tech-house and animated dub-funk rhythms on “Rios” and “Camino,” respectively, you may find yourself wishing he'd applied a similar expansiveness to the recording's range of moods.

January 2006