Since releasing his critically embraced debut La Lucha Constante in 2011, Cheky Bertho, who records as Algodón Egipcio, has released remix EPs and covers, as well as various one-offs and the recent single “Multiestabilidad.” He’s also relocated from his politically turbulent native city of Caracas to Mexico City. Now, after several years, he’s followed up his first full-length with a second album that is both unexpected and everything fans of his experimental electronic pop could have hoped for.
It’s titled La Confienza Ciega, but its lyrics deal mainly with a crisis of faith, or maybe its aftermath. The songs revolve around themes of loss: loss of control, of illusions, of what once was. The words probe the human heart, while hinting at parallels between the big and small in human affairs. A plea to put down weapons on the exquisitely tender “Las Armas” sounds like a call to a friend or lover to lower their guard, but it could also allude to something larger. Adding another layer of possible meaning, song titles like “El Ciclo De Agua” make reference to the natural sciences, and elements of the material world make frequent appearances as foils and metaphors.
Abundant as its lyrical complexities are, Bertho’s sophomore effort may be even more musically rich. The clean vocals are full of emotion; the compositions – more melodic and structured than his past work – are equally lucid, though the rawness and sense of exploration of La Lucha Constante is present throughout. Though there’s a genuine pop appeal and a marked maturity here, in some ways it’s more experimental than anything he’s done before.
“El Calor Especifico” and sole single “La Estrella Irregular” begin the album with a burst of energy channeled through Afro-Caribbean inspired rhythms and steel drum synths that shiver and bubble, shudder and glitch. “Los Deseos” lurches and sways, its staggering beat punctuated by guitar, marimba, shattering glass and plain noise. “La Lectura Fundamental” is reminiscent of El Guincho‘s Pop Negro, but more propulsive. Where Pop Negro drifted and whorled, these songs are headed somewhere.
Tropical electronic music is not a new concept, but Bertho sounds like he started from square one – reaching this point independently, a conclusion arrived at in the quiet of one’s own room. He isn’t simply fitting existing African and Latin rhythms into a bass music lexicon; he’s seeking out new ones. The first half of the album is driven by not-quite champeta, near dembow, and clave interrupted. It’s the sound of something fundamental persisting valiantly despite a faulty connection, ultimately reaching its destination in a new form.
While it very much feels like a part of a time and place in Bertho’s life, La Confianza Ciega has all the hallmarks of a document destined to age extremely well. While there are individual standouts – “La Estrella Irregular” becomes indelible after a handful of listens – things stay interesting from start to finish. The album is frontloaded with the single-worthy material, but rather than peter out into lesser tracks that barely made the cut, it progresses into increasingly abstract essays in rhythm more reminiscent of his debut. “El Ciclo de Agua” explores melodic maximalism in a style that can only be described as lo-fi drum and bass and the fascinating and soulful penultimate track “Las Gotas Plateadas” is, more than all the others, a harmonious but lovingly handmade sound collage.
Despite the lyrical content and cerebral approach, the album is anything but difficult to listen to. The emotional arc bends mostly upward. The crisp production creates a sensation of spaciousness and each track seems saturated in daylight. Synths swell with joy on even the most troubled songs, and melodies rise slowly and steadily like hot air balloons, while the loping beats and constantly shifting audio environment mimic the feeling of walking confidently and smilingly toward an uncertain future.
La Confianza Ciega ends on a particularly bright note with the upbeat “La Dunas Cantoras,” which marvels quasi religiously at the natural world and returns to the neo-Caribbeanisms of the first half of the album. Its placement was intended to make a strong closing statement: Living without illusions does not necessarily mean being pessimistic.
Editor’s note: Algodón Egipcio (aka Cheky Bertho) is a Remezcla contributor.