Beatmaker Zavala turned heads with his experimental and soulful production in outsider hip-hop duo Dark Time Sunshine (check out their 2012 concept album about anxiety, ANX). On his first solo LP, he turns that knack into dance floor-friendly fare.
Zavala draws from the melodic grooves of house, the pumping aggression of techno and the syncopation and vocal samples of UK garage. The colourful variety of analog synth sounds and playful melodies (particularly the vocal by Sara Z on "Chrysalis") might remind some of Kaytranada's excellent album 99.9%, but the syncopated beats and reverb-y, chopped up, re-pitched vocal samples on most of the tracks evoke more strongly the bleakness and turmoil of Burial's classic 2007 album, Untrue. This darkness pervades Zavala's album.
The aforementioned ANX was quite explicit and clear in its grappling with mental illness, but some of the production still had a certain quirkiness to it. On Fantasmas, Zavala's instrumental production much more viscerally communicates his angst. The first drop in "Mirrors" is led by an aggressive synth melody that makes large melodic jumps, pans back and forth in one's headphones, and fights with choppy LFO rhythms.
Warmer, mellower synth sounds and a more relaxed pace on the fourth track and the first minute or so of the sixth, seventh and eighth afford the listener some breathing room, but the heaviness never fully subsides, as those with anxiety might well know — even when not exhibiting symptoms or having an attack, the fear that it might be around the corner can still weigh you down.
For its exorcism of dark energies deftly balanced with efforts towards lightness, Fantasmas is a startlingly effective solo debut. (Fake Four Inc.)