Album Review: El Buho – Natura Sonora [Shika Shika; November 2021]

El Buho – globetrotting DJ and producer Robin Perkins – took nature as inspiration for this latest release, a marrying of folk, electronica and found sound. Self-proclaimed ‘owl by night, environmentalist by day’, Perkins’ reverence for the natural world shines through in this downtempo organic electronica that is bright with birdsong, melodic layers dripping and rippling on a bed of pulsing beats.

Natura Sonora is a product of lockdown. Like so many, Perkins took solace in the absorbing diversions of nature, creativity and the imagination when confined indoors, crafting soundscapes of imagined journeys through nine beautiful, wild and exotic locations. The result is a misty-eyed gaze to a boundless green world beyond his Parisian window. The imagination is wholly present in these snapshots of glacier, rainforest and river: ethereal vocals lend a dream-like quality whilst mystery sounds of animals in situ transport the listener to somewhere altogether other.

At times these field recordings appear as textile rags, lovingly stitched together to create a musical fabric – one that’s comforting enough but only takes the edge off the chill. In contrast, likeminded nature-loving artists such as Action Pyramid and Cosmo Sheldrake (who shares Perkins’ passion for recording endangered birds’ song) seek out and commune with the musicality in the non-human, even performing in, with, and for surrounding nature. Likewise, there’s little exploration of the human relationship with the natural environment, as found in Bjork’s Biophilia.

What Perkins does convey is a sense of awe: his soundscapes are grand, echoey, full of majesty and yearning. There’s excitement too: strings, saxophones, wailing synths and groovy percussive hooks accompany the waterfalls and crackling leaves. Guest vocals add emotion: Sutari’s uplifting whoops render ‘Bialowieza’ a joyous call to the wild; Aeve Ribbons adds husky depth to ‘Altai’; and elsewhere female voices in unison conjure images of community, collective experience; of gathering and coming home to the nature so present in these recordings.

Ultimately, this “dreamy, deep melodic journey” celebrates the power of the imagination. Picture El Buho lying back with eyes closed envisioning far-off landscapes; it’s an album that’s best enjoyed by doing the same.