If you’re familiar with Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s discography (including his wonderful 2017 Stones Throw debut Jardín), the singles leading up to the release of his new full-length Agüita might have seemed, to say the least, confusing.
First, we got some R&B that’s very much in line with his previous work (“Someone”) followed by a bombastic trap record (“Agüita”). Then, he crooned his heart out with little more than an acoustic guitar on “Bloom”) just before going full-on Top 40 reggaeton on us with “Muñeca.” The rollout left us wondering who the artist really is and now that the album is out, it’s safe to say he’s all of that and more.
Largely written, arranged, programmed, played and sung by Garzón-Montanohimself, Agüita is a clear exploration of his inner selves, without an inch of worry about sounding inconsistent. He actually very consciously separates his ethnic roots (U.S. America, French and Colombian) which he deeply embodies on these ten songs. The demarcation is very clear and, although it can be a disorienting experience, it quickly becomes apparent how creatively freeing this exercise was for him.
In this context, he set the bar very high for himself, for better or worse. For instance, when he puts on his “debonair leading man” hat as he defines the tackling of his American roots, he’s in a space where he’s already proven himself. Songs like “Someone,” “With a Smile,” and the gorgeous “Moonless,” inspired by his mother’s passing in 2006, drink from the same R&B and soul influences found on Jardín but are still thoughtfully crafted sonic- and production-wise. After all, this is what he does.
The real gold can be found when he stretches the possibilities of his talent. Right since opener “Tombs,” Garzón-Montano blindingly shines as a composer and arranger, roles he had taken in the past only shyly. The track glacially builds up over an incessant riff with orchestral elements, creating a tension that’s hard to shake off even when the song finishes, complemented by lyrics about human mediocrity. A more emotionally satisfying moment comes on closer “Blue Dot,” a collaboration with Theo Bleckmann, complete with a glitchy IDM beat reminiscent of Vespertine-era Björk.
But what was impossible to foresee was the rise of Garzón-Montano the el movimiento star. He recurred to contemporary sounds to explore his Latino identity and did so meticulously. He also brings a kind of masculinity that’s rarely found in these genres—a breath of fresh air. Throw in Pelé and René Higuita references on these tracks, his first ever in Spanish, and he’s convinced us he’s built for this.
“Con ritmo de Kingston y clave de base/Estudiante del perreo dando clase,” he sings on his reggaeton banger “Muñeca” before giving el Conejo Malo a shout-out. The title track stands in the middle of Latin and Atlanta trap, complete with a Totó La Momposina-sampling gaita hook, displaying rapping skills we didn’t know he had in him.
For anyone who casually listens to Agüita, it might be hard to connect the dots between the songs, as it jumps from one genre to the next without much warning. But this is Gabriel Garzón-Montano putting it all out there, showing ambition and virtuosity in every decision he takes and every idea he envisions, even if he slips over the self-indulgence line sometimes. No human being is only one thing and this is his truth.