f the title of Gui Boratto's debut full-length isn't intended to be farcical, it would be reasonable to assume that the 33-year Sao Pãolo native has either confronted his Pantone demons and emerged unscathed or been the recipient of a chromatic intervention. Chromophobia is not so much conflicted by shades and hues as it is positively seething with them, a spiral dance of cascading colors given musical voice by a multitude of mouths. The vividness of Boratto's music tempts the listener to envy the 35mm camera, with its ability to capture and contain frozen moments of electromagnetic radiation. But on Chromophobia, there is no pausing for still shots—it's a continuous pan across thickly-clustered see-sawing melodies, impudently dynamic synth tones and subtle drum loops that are shifted, rearranged and altered incessantly. This is the sound of fractious textures being sensually woven into a tapestry of almost inspirational complexity, stubbornly insisting on a delicate balance of light and dark, transparent and opaque, yellow and magenta and cyan, oh my! It is the sound of mounting the sunset and dancing amongst stars, the very instant when lightning is electrically converted into life and Dr. Frankenstein shouts his two most infamous words.
The inability of most people to perceive this in Boratto's music can be understood, if not forgiven. Electronic music has always had the barrier of archaic (at least twenty years old or older is archaic by now) psychological resistance against it—electric guitars are “warm” and “human” but oscillating waveforms are just “cold,” man. The facts that the force driving both instruments can be measured in amperes and that both sound-generating devices would be impossible without mechanical and electrical engineering don't tend to disturb the burden of this prejudice. But for those without contempt for sine and sawtooth waves, rejoice! The long dark night of the soul has ended. Let there be light!
And what a light it is...a billion streaming ions of florid, penetrating lucidity—opener “Scene” is evocative enough to paint seven of them across your brow, disarming your perceptions with of a “warm” synth tone counterbalanced by a “cold” viola, cut loose to pursue alternate permutations of said tone across the bunched spines of a dozen wrinkly porcupines. Follow-up “Mr. Decay” could at first be one of those minimal workouts that fails to break a sweat, a simple shuffle of itchy, dry drum programming, but Boratto's polyphonic lines are too melodic to be austere, and a sensuous, dark undercurrent propels us towards a warm motion and a complex emotion. If trance weren't a dirty word nowadays it'd apply here—the meditative swirling of timbres placates the senses like a rapidly-melting fudge ripple tasted on the day of summer's first swelling. The progression of Chromophobia falling forward from this one-two punch develops as a small series of two-to-three song clusters, each one a suite of similar moods and tone colors building towards new plateaux.
Things get stranger, tougher, and almost fiercely mechanical real quick, within the nervous-funk triad of “Terminal,” “Gate 7” and “Shebang.” Incorporating tenser rhythmic tricks and noises approximating heavy industry into Boratto's ballet, we're led through the humming factory and into the techno sweatshop. Generators pulse, gears slowly grind, the circuit board comes alive and everywhere is the mingling of metallic parts interacting. "Gate 7" engages with a twitchy, slightly spooky plucked-string sound and a rubberized bassline that seems to be coming from inside your ear rather than simply bouncing against its surface. "Shebang" collects crystalline sound formations to the tune of a quick-tempoed drum break that all the quirky prettiness makes feel slower than it actually is. The genius is that all of this electrical frippery is teeming on the surface of a welcoming lake of complex, wavering melodies and joyous, meaty beats. These aren't distant, inhuman exercises in manipulated tones, but living, breathing structures—envelopes of tricky disco awaiting only your tongue to provide them with closure.
The interregnum is provided by “Chromophobia” and “The Blessing”—two dry, clean, almost clinical tracks that wield the techno-scalpel to get a peek at your innards, knowing they will expose musculature that pulsates with a lambent pink aura. "Chromophobia" serenades us with the pressure of the heartbeat thumping in the chest of the one who pilots the machine, and "The Blessing" goes even deeper into the bloodstream, sounding like a mysterious underwater journey in a well-manned submarine, alive with the opening and closing of ports and the rhythmic throb of the engines. “Mala Strana,” a gorgeous tone poem from which a simple piano line emerges like a leafy frond, initiates the complete descent from man-made accents to aqueous tones, the visceral and far-ranging thrills of the album's first half gradually giving way to more contemplative, earthy ones. If ambient weren't a dirty word nowadays it'd apply here—the organic, softly-tinted shadings of “Acrostico” and closer "The Verdict" are far from placid, but they lull the senses with arpeggiators draped in duskier tones and a revolving, serene sense of beauty.
Which isn't to say that Chromophobia evolves from motion into stasis—the action is slower at first, but the triumphant, deal-sealing trilogy of “Xilo,” the gloriously-buoyant “Beautiful Life” and the incandescent “Hera” blend both the sensitive sparkle and the frangible flush with the unkempt, joyous journeyings of Boratto's wilder (and more wide-eyed) side. If ambient trance wasn't a bad phrase nowadays… "Xilo" weaves a web of marimba-like notes across a twangy guitar-like sound that could be Duane Eddy in space, especially since we appear to be achieving some kind of lift-off as the song progresses. "Beautiful Life" and "Hera" actually take place beyond the stratosphere, the former a lush, loving epic that balances crunchy, compressed percussion with graceful broad melodic lines that can't decide whether they want to sound like strings or synths. "Hera" could be the ballroom dance on some other world, evoking visions of exotic, multicolored beings writhing in the strange light of a strange sun.
Usually a dance album of such breadth and poise is the result of a greatest-hits like repackaging of several years worth of vinyl sides. However, with the exception of “Gate 7” and the title track (released only on the 3-LP version of Total 7), nothing on Chromophobia has previously seen the light of day, despite the many 12” releases Boratto has accrued. Like his antipodean labelmate Axel Willner (The Field), his debut is almost entirely out of nowhere, coming dressed to kill in garments of an unfamiliar make. And while both albums share a joyous vitality and uniform brilliance, they have little sonically in common—Boratto escalates microstructures, while Willner immediatizes macrostructures. To put it another way, he's a sonic architect that specializes in clever micro-management of discrete moments, deftly harmonizing tiny tonal changes and rhythmic shifts to construct a bright, broad pattern that's in a state of constant flux. To put it another way—minimal + maximal = magical.