One of the first things you notice about El Tiempo Es Circular is that the running time exceeds the 40-minute mark by a hair. Polo Vega’s previous two works, 2013’s From The Trees To The Satellites and 2014’s Naive Again, were short bursts that felt like well-developed albums in everything but running time, which makes it interesting to begin with. If the producer has worked so well in a brief setting, what can we expect from a lengthier piece? This new entry into the Trillones canon has some additions to the sound that Vega has been practicing, and they’re all for the best.
There’s nothing radically different in the sound department this time around, but El Tiempo Es Circular sounds like little of what Polo has done with this project so far. Although there’s plenty of atmosphere and melody, Trillones now has focused on the rhythmic nature of his style. The songs are crafted as individual pieces but they don’t feel like “songs” in the traditional sense of the word. Up until now, Trillones had mixed electronic music and his love for dream pop to great effect. His first two EPs relished in evocative tones to dress up its songs. Now these sounds will send you straight to the dancefloor. It sounds completely like Trillones; the differences are minimal, but the approach makes it feel like a new phase for the project.
This might sound like bad news for everybody looking for shoegaze electronics as per usual, but there’s nothing to fear here. The mood throughout the record remains consistent with what Polo has delivered in the past. In fact, there’s an expansion in the musical vocabulary and the feelings evoked here. “No Te Acabes Nunca” gives you everything you are about to hear. You can find fluffy synths and an atmosphere that keeps building, but the emphasis here is on rhythm.
There’s a flavor more akin to techno records than dream pop. At times, the sound Polo crafted for El Tiempo Es Circular seems to be taking cues from early ambient house cuts by the likes of The Orb, Boards Of Canada, or Biosphere, rather than anything classic 4AD, a comparison that has been a constant for Trillones. Expanding his soundscapes is not only a natural thing for Vega, artistically speaking, it’s welcome. So many artists are all about one sound that it’s refreshing to hear someone take chances and come out on top with a new approach.
It’s hard to pinpoint standout tracks, as the record flows in a very natural fashion. Still, repeated listenings bring out individual moments that will stick out. “Refugio” is propelled by clicking beats, over which chimes and swelling tones provide color. “Peninsular” has a dubstep beat (not to be confused with “drop the bass” brostep; think more subtle) that relies on groove, overtones, and toddler-like chatter. There’s an innocence to most of Trillones’ work and that hasn’t stopped here. “Los Llevo Conmigo” is defined by nonsensical vocals, while “De Cierto Desierto” features a more mechanical approach to sounds and a menacing bass throughout the track. Similarly, there’s the buzzing electronics of “Arena” that are contrasted by abstract and gentle synths over a reggaeton beat.
El Tiempo Es Circular demonstrates the artist’s talents that might not be as easy to identify on first listen or in a short format. Here, you can grasp his abilities to arrange tracks and even albums in a way that feels like he’s almost telling a story without a script or even lyrics. The way each tune unfolds keeps you glued to a wordless narrative with clear starting and stopping times, and each track adds to a larger arc. The only clues about this tale’s themes are the song titles, and they are quite vague. It suggests that the listener should fill the spaces with his or her own experiences and desires to make sense of it all.
The album title suggests a life cycle. It might also refer to physical records as carriers of time, as they revolve to deliver their stories. I’m not sure if a high concept was what Polo had in mind for his first full-length effort, but his music has evolved to the point that it carries clear emotional resonance reflected in ambitious music that relies on minimalism and modesty. It defies the listener by inviting him or her to a rich world of tones and rhythms to dance and dream to.
In the first season of True Detective, Rust Cohle (portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) famously said “time is a flat circle.” Polo Vega seems to tell us that this is a half-truth. Time might be circular, but it isn’t flat at all. There’s depth and subtlety. Time is a sphere full of cracks and valleys; we’re just climbing and sliding through them.