Words by James Nason
Music is many things to many people. It is a universal language, and a common denominator responsible for countless shared experiences. It is as mysterious as it is intuitive, and one of the most powerful motivators of human behavior imaginable. The miracle of the medium is its ability to transform the deeply personal creative desires of individuals into concrete experiences which any listener can interpret and take value from. One only needs to consider the sweeping spectrum from Nick Cave to Aphex Twin to Daft Punk to John Cage to Skinny Puppy to understand the literally infinite possibilities of the musical medium -- one human’s unlistenable tripe is another person’s stunning masterpiece.
Austero is a musical project by Albino Sosa Ruiz, and with his debut full length record Abismo, it’s safe to say he has used the full range of music’s expressive and cathartic properties to create a piece that is not only sonically engaging, but also packed with emotion, intention, and wondrous synchronicity. The album was painstakingly crafted in Sosa’s home studio in Melbourne, Australia with his lifetime collection of synths, guitars and keyboards, mostly as a five year labour of love on his own, but oftentimes with musical allies from around the Melbourne scene.
Albino is not native Australian, but rather hails from the humble yet troubled Mexican city of Tampico, a few hundred kilometers south of the Texan border. He arrived to the artistic hub of Melbourne a dozen or so years ago, and in the years leading up to 2015 built a creatively fulfilled life for himself there that led to a musical project likely familiar to many Westwood Recordings regulars: Sunmonx, a collaboration with Opiuo that led to two EPs and a full length record well received here in Western Canada’s bass scene, and around the festival world.
By his own reckoning, Albino’s life at that point was amazing. He’d made connections, created inspiring art, and was on a high that he couldn’t see abating. It was at this point, starting around 2016, that the record that would become Abismo started. Three of the tunes from the album were written in this time of comparative joy, and those vibes are evident: Let’s Get Started, the lead single with feature vocalist Arowe is full of hope and positive momentum with lyrics like “Gotta live life how you like/gonna do what we feel right/gonna keep our dreams in sight/now let’s get started,” and clean, soothing guitar licks placed delicately atop a pleasantly syncopated, lightly toned percussion line and a muscular, swelling synth bass; Mexican Music Man is an ode to his friend Alejandro Espino Aldana and his own heritage, traditional Latin guitar rhythms and sampled Spanish dialogue melded seamlessly with proper banging bass drops and trappy snares; and Back To The Funk features another local Melbourne music pal, rapper Kudos, and chops up sassy bass slaps and slides to create an upbeat backdrop and festival ready daytime hip hop feel that evokes the spirit of Hilltop Hoods.
That side of the record feels straightforward, and competent though those tunes may be, they only scratch the surface of the meaning and intention behind Abismo. Take the joy and fun of those songs and place them as a backdrop to the coming story. One day, in the midst of the artist life in Melbourne, Albino awoke to 17 missed calls on his phone. As anyone would, he knew something wasn’t right, and when he returned the calls to his family at home in Tampico, his world changed forever in an instant.
Albino’s mother was too devastated to say anything coherent to him in this moment, so eventually he reached his cousin and heard for the first time the story that would resonate and echo in his heart and mind from that moment until now. His father, a humble and hard working man named Albino Sosa Teran, a farmer by trade and a golfer by passion, was on his way to the farm he managed near Tampico to pay some employees. As is the case in a Mexican town troubled by economic turbulence, gang warfare, the drug trade, and the aftermath of a now faded oil boom, the workers did not have online banking or direct deposit, but old fashioned cash payment.
Somebody knew he had that cash, humble though the amount would have been, and did an unthinkable deed: they ambushed Mr. Sosa at the entry of the dirt road a few kilometres away from the Mexican rancho. They fired shots at his car to send a message and intimidate him. Courageously the elder Albino accelerated through that malevolent moment, but the damage had been done. Albino Sosa Teran had been hit.
After driving another few hundred meters, Albino’s father would eventually die, but not before the beautiful final act of his life which would go on to not only provide solace to Albino and his mother Olga Ruiz Garza, but also to inspire Abismo’s cathartic, show stopping finale Ultima Llamada. In the final seconds of his life, Albino Sr. called Olga on the phone to be sure the last words he spoke were his love for her; no Mexican gentleman leaves without saying goodbye. Ultima Llamada translates to final call, and that song is a gift to Albino’s mother as well as a hugely emotional salute to the memory of his father. It is a romanticization of his father’s final moments and the gesture he made to his wife, and contains a synchronistic symbol that speaks to the intense intention and meaning behind Abismo.
"Abismo translates to Abyss, and the music in it is the representation of one man’s journey through that abyss of pain"
When Austero, the younger Albino, arrived the next day from Australia to be with his mother and sister and lay his father to rest, something truly unexplainable happened. As he got into his mother’s vehicle to go somewhere with her before the funeral, his phone connected to the Bluetooth in the car he had never been in before, and began to play a voice message that Albino did not even know of. The voice message was from his father, a sweet and kind message telling Albino he was doing fine and everything was okay. The message played over and over to him and his mother, a message from the past transformed by the intensity of the situation into a gesture from his father as he passed from this plane to the next. That voice message is the audio sample in the middle and end of Ultima Llamada.
That event, and the song it inspired, is emblematic of this record. Every song is a monument to some aspect of the intense transition and trauma of Albino’s life from that moment until now. The record itself is a reckoning of every element around him, an act of pulling his people around him to find the strength to move on from this moment. Abismo translates to Abyss, and the music in it is the representation of one man’s journey through that abyss of pain.
So beyond the party vibes, we find a deep dive into more emotions than the average dance record. Nosebleed is an ode to a friend, Jose Antonio Rodriguez (R.I.P.), who introduced Albino to slower, more emotive electronic music like Air’s Moon Safari and The Postal Service. Those influences ring loud and clear here as the song feels more meditative and textural than punchy and festival ready, another sonic layer for Abismo, this time with some plunky echoing synth drips and drabs atop a staticy, washing synth pad.
Austero explores moody, mellow spaces most often with his guitar licks. While not an especially flashy player, the guitar floats in and out of songs like Enela as syncopated punctuation of long, echoing passages of nonverbal vocal splashes and rising, falling, ecstatic yet mellow synth. At one point, the guitar drops from a big build into a machine gun pluck, driving the fuzzy, imprecise tune decisively into a dark yet enthusiastic mood.
Catharsis is an examination of a different type of casualty to Albino’s recovery, his separation from his wife. Such a topic evokes the song’s subdued Rhodes sound, a balance between precise staccato licks and emotive mini solo passages that recalls Albino’s feelings on the pain of separation. To him, love is movement, and after spending a lot of time searching for her love beneath his feet and right in front of his nose, he found that the best move for him was forward, and away from something that had stopped working. In the same way, the song itself starts unsure and dabbles in expressive keyboard passages, ending with an extended, thoughtful, and decisive solo.
Waterdogs, one of the darkest songs on the album, takes on the context of Tampico, the town Austero grew up in, and a place struggling with public violence and organized crime. For the better part of a century, Tampico’s proximity to the United States was a financial boon to its residents, and the local oil refinery and associated economic benefits made Tampico a thriving, if not massive, town with tourism elements to complement its industrial resources. Over time, however, cartels and black market economy have overtaken the town and driven people and money out, leaving behind empty shells of buildings and tragic violence and poverty in its wake. The song is named after the otters living in this part of Mexico, the informal symbol of the place, and is a largely atonal build and drop of static with hints of clean guitar echoing like the more pleasant past of this now hurting place. That context of dissonance leads into the tragic final track of the record, the poignant Ultima Llamada.
Taken together, these songs and others from Abismo use music as a social mirror, in Austero’s words. For a performer with roots across the musical spectrum from trance to hardcore metal, he has chosen electronic music as the most versatile and expressive platform to share the rich mosaic of not just his own life but of the social fabric which underpins his reaction to those experiences. This complex, harrowing and traumatic situation motivated Albino to pull together every piece of his life he could to cope, which means that his examination of his personal abyss reads like a musical autobiography, one where friends show up as performers as frequently as subjects, and where so many factors of his life show up in so many ways. From parties with pals to crying himself to sleep on the studio floor, Austero has shown every true colour in his repertoire with Abismo, and that emotional truth and openness will show itself to every listener that comes his way.
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