Nicola Cruz - Self Oscillation EP Music Album Reviews

Nicola Cruz - Self Oscillation EP Music Album Reviews
A drummer and sound engineer with wide-ranging influences, the Franco-Ecuadorian producer constructs dancefloor rhythms that snap with feral intensity.

For the past seven years, Nicola Cruz has been primarily known for his fusions of electronic music and Andean folk. On early releases like 2015’s Prender el Alma, the Franco-Ecuadorian musician folded indigenous instruments like quena and charango into dubby, downbeat grooves. By 2019’s Siku, he was reaching beyond the South American cordillera, combining breathy flutes with diverse Latin American and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. “Maybe it’s an anthropological thing,” he said of his magpie tendencies. Though promoters and interviewers still tend to peg him to his initial reference points, his work has continued to absorb a broader range of influences; last year’s Subtropique EP for London’s Rhythm Section International label was taut, machine-driven club music, more Panorama Bar than pan flute.

Cruz returns to the UK label with the Self Oscillation EP, his hardest-hitting and most unpredictable release yet. Eschewing the chilled-out vibes of some of his early records, all six tracks are made for dancing. Cruz trained as both a drummer and a sound engineer, and it shows—his rhythms snap with feral intensity, and his drum sounds have uncommon bite. Sharpened hi-hats pierce glowering sub-bass; syncopated grooves are pulled as taut as a nylon slackline, for maximum elasticity.

If Cruz is an anthropologist, then Self Oscillation might be a study in dance music’s tribal allegiances. Almost every track suggests a hybrid of some heretofore undocumented cultural fusion. “Cadera” opens the record with soca rhythms punctuated by gravelly acid lines; chilly dissonance leaves a whiff of freezer burn wafting over an otherwise hot-blooded groove. Slow and skulking, “Residual Heat” pairs crisp dembow rhythms with airy vocal samples and laser zaps, splicing the “deep reggaetón” of DJ Python with the bleep techno of 1990s Sheffield.

Despite their frequently referential qualities, these songs resist being pinned down. The only track that feels like a genre study is “Surface Tension,” but the style that it evokes is the West London broken beat that flourished around the turn of the millennium—itself a dynamic hybrid of techno, breakbeats, garage, and hard-nosed funk. Spinning dubbed-out metallic accents around an incredibly funky breakbeat groove, the tune’s a dead ringer for the Y2K output of labels like 2000 Black, while lush chords underline the historical links between broken beat and Detroit techno-jazz.

Cruz rarely misses an opportunity to put a provocative wrinkle into the mix. Oddly truncated vocal loops—shades of vintage Herbert—are panned so that they seem to wrap around your head, triggering strange psychoacoustic effects. The drums are layered in such a way that they sound less like a single, cohesive kit and more like many different drummers reflected in the shards of a shattered mirror; every hit feels like a fragmentary glimpse into a different room, each one with its own acoustic properties.

Like the best dance music, these tracks exude a kind of controlled audacity. The staccato breakbeat and ostinato synth of “Self Oscillation” move with a cocky strut, like dark sunglasses and a leather jacket transposed straight to MIDI; the futuristic disco of “Neo Costeño” is saucy and insouciant, tailored for high-stepping moves and light-headed twirls. The closing cut is the most audacious of all: “Pulso Invisible” begins with springy, speedy dub percussion, stray noises tumbling like flotsam in the waves. Cruz, who tends to peg his releases to one of the four elements, has called Self Oscillation a water record, and you can hear that influence in the song’s liquid flux. But halfway through, a spiraling synth arpeggio comes swimming through the mix, and suddenly the seascape turns the color of ’90s trance, as though a tributary of classic Underworld had spilled into a stream of early-’00s dubstep. The unpredictable mixture is a measure of just how inventive Cruz can be: a surfer on the tide, letting the current carry him where it may.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Nicola Cruz - Self Oscillation EP Music Album Reviews Nicola Cruz - Self Oscillation EP Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 Rating: 5

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