Album Review: Mateo Kingman – Astro [AYA Records; July 2019]

‘Negative capability’ was a concept English Romantic poet John Keats used to describe a writer’s capacity to abandon certainty and – in pursuit of an artistic vision – venture off into the unknown. Taking a journey to Ixtlan rather than returning to Ithaka is what Mateo Kingman’s Astro is all about.

Compared to Kingman’s previous output, the electroacoustic sound of Astro resembles EVHA’s meditative left field folktronica more closely than the funky dancefloor fillers of his debut Respira, made to bring the house down. When a downtempo album clocks in at under forty minutes, three vocal interludes start dragging on a bit. Still, that is a small price to pay for moments of sheer brilliance.

Take ‘Tejidos’ (Engl. Fabrics), for instance; a celebration of love that weaves our lives of various lengths into an intricate pattern, its twinkling tresillo played by an Andean wooden harp and shamanic yelps wrapped in ethereal pads. Then there is the dramatic analogue brass that punctuates the initiation in ‘Puerta de Sal’ (Engl. Salt Door) and Kingman’s sung rhythmic flow in ‘Religar’ (Engl. Unity), a timely exhortatory speech, encouraging us to pick up the pieces and restore our faith in humanity.

And yet, underneath the elaborate percussion kits and lush polyphonic synths, Kingman keeps his muses constantly near, namely Simon Diaz, Caetano Veloso and Violeta Parra. A bittersweet ballad, ‘Lucero’ (Engl. Evening Star) is built around a humble acoustic guitar, and ‘Ultimo Aliento’ (Engl. Last Breath), a bolero duet with none other than Gustavo Santaolalla on ronroco, tells about Kingman’s poignant reflections on his grandfather’s deathbed – both songs carried by his rich, impassioned voice, capable of reaching impressive heights.

Sometimes a singer-songwriter with rich musical heritage puts his heart and soul into the mix, and the magic happens – here it places Kingman at the forefront of the electronic scene in the Hispanosphere with Nicola Cruz, Rodrigo Gallano, Dengue Dengue Dengue and Chanca Via Circuito. Astro may well signal a turning point in his career. At the very least, it is a clear sign of a true visionary.