Mabe Fratti Has More Questions Than Answers on 'Sentir que no sabes'

BY Eric HillPublished Jun 26, 2024


Mabe Fratti would make a good Oracle. In thinking of a tidy aesthetic phylum to classify the Guatemalan cellist, singer and composer's work so far, there is no shortage of options that graze the surface. Comparisons to Arthur Russell have been made, referring to the late cellist's multivalent approaches to art and pop. Likewise Björk, with her assemblage of styles, touches on similar states of emotion and dramatics. But it's perhaps the Oracle series of experimental artists like Jessica Pavone, Yuka Honda and Meredith Monk that resides within John Zorn's Tzadik label that best illuminates the blur of musical worlds between high minded art and direct pop proclamation that Fratti travels between.    

As a child of strict religious upbringing, Fratti was trained in classical music before discovering Limewire and Ligeti around the same time. This set her musical origin story and subsequent journey down strange tributaries. Fratti's work continually crosses over the invisible boundaries between the formal, experimental and emotionally accessible pop modes. These varied modes function as keys, continually trying to unlock answers that Fratti asks of herself and the listener, as in "Pantalla azul" ("Blue Screen Error") where she wonders "Do you want to turn off the light / Forget science / Execute the power to merge with your shadow?" Like any good Oracle, she reveals truths that remain partially hidden in half-shadows.

On this, her fourth album, the full array of her influences and interests are on display, from the groovy introduction of "Kravitz," leading with her cello plucked into a deep distorted bass line. Gradually her collaborators, including writing partner Héctor Tosta, join in to turn it into a mysterious, crawling stomp punctuated with trumpet and piano stabs. The Spanish lyrics are elusive, alluding to "someone on the other side of the wall," which variably refers to both earthly and divine possibilities. These dualities find their way into all the spaces the album opens.

The idea of "elastic responses" also recurs in the albums lyrics and in the periodic instrumentals, a couple titled "Elastica," that operate as points of re-orientation or disorientation along the journey. These pieces reveal the purely compositional and improvisational elements of Fratti's work, full of oblique strategies and experimental approaches to her instrument's potential, setting aside the requirements of pop structure for a few minutes. These throat-clearing interstices subsequently pull their findings into the adjacent songs, such as "Elastica I" whose swoops and staccato chirps settle into "Márgen del indice" ("Index Margin"), translated into a kind of mechanistic reverberation that plays on the disruption and confusion of sensibilities that would not be out of place in a Trent Reznor piece.

The variety of doors presented in the album's quest for answers, or more questions, present a challenge for those who prefer a more cohesive experience. For the adventurous though, the doors crack open onto a wide variety of styles and time frames, from inflections of gritty '80s keyboards that occasionally surface to the traditional waltz of a track like "Oidos" ("Ears") that dips further into a past that suggests a lighter way to pursue the truth.  It is in "Quieras-o-no" ("Whether You Want It or Not"), a track that features Fratti alone plucking her cello, that delivers her central message playing on the album's title, Sentir que no sabes (Feel Like You Don't Know). Sometimes the answer to the question is worse than not knowing. Just the kind of thing a good Oracle would say.

(Unheard of Hope)

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