El Fin de Los Tiempos, the second full-length that Mexico City musician Leonardo Ponce has recorded as PØNCE, is an apocalyptic break-up album. It tells the story of an impossible relationship, a story of two people who love each other but who mix like “fuego y aire,” as the Mexican songwriter puts it in the title track. Fire feeds on the oxygen in the air, but the end result is inevitably a bunch of ashes. It might be romantic, but it’s not a fairytale. Having a baleful narrative to spin seems to have focused the songwriter and producer’s energies; this release is many times richer and more coherent than its enjoyable predecessor Viejo.
A monumental sense of finality and the feeling of peace that comes from embracing defeat defines this cycle of groaning electro anthems and beat-driven dirges. Musically, El Fin de Los Tiempos is enveloping and comforting the way nightfall can be. It takes cues from the darker side of new wave, with lots of cold hi-hats and brooding bass lines, but without a hint of 80s nostalgia. The hi-def production is too crisp and too proudly state-of-the-art to allow for it. Each thudding beat and chiming synth note seems to reverberate in three dimensions or more, surrounding the listener in cinematic drama. Ponce layers sounds and beats until they verge on dissonance and cacophony, yet harmony always prevails.
Ponce’s clear tenor and crisp diction keep lyrics in the foreground, but the music tells at least half the story. On “Destruirte,” multiple rhythms ride precariously over deep, rumbling synths that eventually flatline. “Imperio” staggers out like a bound and wounded New Order b-side. Every beat on the album seems affected by some kind of torpor that drags them backward as though they were in thrall to some gravitational pull or powerful drug. All of the melodies are on a slow but inevitable downward spiral.
The title track is the euphoric eye of the storm and the album’s shining heart. The synths swell and the drums boom. The love part of this love story gets its moment. And within the boundaries of the track, this love is both hopeless and indestructible. It becomes unclear whether the phrase “el fin de los tiempos” refers to the dissolution of a relationship, or the length of time that the feelings pertaining to that relationship will persist.
With its seductive gloom, danceable beats, and grim themes, El Fin de Los Tiempos qualifies as a sleek, 2016 descendant of The Faint’s Danse Macabre. Unlike that album, which you can work up a serious sweat dancing to, the tunes that are technically upbeat enough on El Fin de Los Tiempos aren’t really suited for the dance floor (The bleakly anthemic “Roja” is a possible exception). These tunes are better for putting on late at night and remembering the way you used to dance. Those nights need a soundtrack, too.
Ponce’s El Fin de los Tiempos is available exclusively via Apple Music. Stream the full album below: