In the last few years, the music world has exploded with female voices floating waif-like above synth pads. From the anthemic dream pop of Chvrches to the folk-infused electronics of Sylvan Esso, the pretty voice/pulsing synth combination has made a mark at that fruitful junction between electronic and acoustic sound, and I’m not sick of it.
In case you are, I recommend that you reconsider that stance for ela minus. The project of Columbian-born, Brooklyn-based Gabriel Jimeno, ela minus has released a beautiful second EP, Grow, which adheres to the waif-plus-synth formula but adds its own spin on the genre. Measuring just three songs and 11 minutes total, the album is light in every sense. But it doesn’t lack substance.
Beginning with the first song, “Ahead,” ela minus introduces a muted tension between the dominating airiness of her music and subtler heavy pull. The song starts quietly with synth blips and muffled percussion that leave plenty of space for Jimeno’s soft, high voice to sing a delicately hovering melody. Little by little, she amasses different sounds—more percussion that testifies to her former gig as a drummer, a gentle bass, and other synth voices—that slowly build into a surging refrain, “I'll make my own family / So you can come play with me." Between the “come play” line and the fragility of its utterance, it's easy to view this as child’s phrase—until you consider loneliness that motivates it. "I'll fit us all in a box so we can't get out," she sings, the girlishness of her voice emphasizing the singer’s vulnerability to the world outside that imagined box.
The same disconnect between voice and theme returns in the third song, “House on a Mountain.” In a gentle falsetto, Jimeno sings, mysteriously, “I killed you both and now your faces look like / They sound like songs.” In a very even-keeled and innocent-sounding song, the lyrics exhibit strange violence and poetry. Though “House on a Mountain” is the flattest of the three tracks on Grow, the contrast between its lyrics and its airy music and voice make it an enthralling song nonetheless.
Not flat at all is “Volcán,” the second song, in which the play between lightness and grounding, sparseness and richness, is at its best. Like the volcano described in its exclusively Spanish lyrics, the song emanates from a deep, seething place but rises to the surface as something bright and warm. Fairly sparse and bouncy, the synths’ sum is greater than their parts—an effect partially achieved by the shifting dynamics that lend the song a pulsating, moving feel.
Though just three brief songs, Grow is greater than the sum of its parts. Comprised of spacious synth washes, bouncy blips, and Jimeno’s delicate, beautiful voice, ela minus’s EP is a rich and polished second work.
Correction: The lyric in ela minus's "Ahead" is "I'll fit us all in a box so we can get out," not "so we can't get out," as stated. We think the vulnerability still stands, albeit perhaps in a more empowering context.