Both Ana Roxanne and Brian Piñeyro operate with a perpetual slowness. Piñeyro’s productions as DJ Python might be more club-focused than Roxanne’s gently unfolding ambient lullabies, but he is just as patient in his approach to house and reggaeton; even his hardest tracks don’t pummel the dancefloor so much as gradually envelop it like a vaporous cloud. He’s a child of IDM at heart, building songs out of wispy drum patterns and strange synth patches that pull the listener into a deep, nocturnal trance. Roxanne, for her part, has explored rippling electronic drums on tracks like “Camille.” So it’s not completely inconceivable that the two artists might find kinship in each other’s work. In their first record together as Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, they set about exploring the shared spaces in their practices, uncovering subtle new emotional territories in the process.
Although Natural Wonder Beauty Concept isn’t expressly intended for moving bodies, club culture has left scuff marks in its ebbing rhythms (the cover art should trigger flashbacks for anybody used to catching Lyfts from a downtown warehouse at 3 a.m.). “Fallen Angel” opens the album in slow motion, with Piñeyro’s spacious bass and tinny hi-hats inching along like a caterpillar crawling up a leafy branch, while Roxanne’s softly cooing voice peeks through like sunlight overhead. Together they arrive at a crisp, chilly downtempo not quite like anything either artist has released before. But part of Natural Wonder Beauty Concept’s appeal is the way it constantly changes direction: Immediately after “The Veil I” casts us into a bleary spell of warbling piano loops, flipped pages, and tap-dancing shoes, the duo shifts gears on the lovely title track, whose racing jungle breaks and melancholy central motif mix together to create a purified drip of blissful nostalgia.
Vocals have always played a central role in Roxanne’s music, filtering her background in church choir and Hindustani chant into an otherworldly mist, and that emphasis seems to have rubbed off on Piñeyro. The trip-hoppy “III” interjects its skittering drums with Piñeyro’s own voice—marking the first time he has used them on one of his productions—as he disaffectedly asks, “Isn’t it strange that nothing makes a difference at all/Isn’t it strange that I kind of feel nothing at all?” His soft humming fits surprisingly seamlessly into the track’s dusky atmosphere, particularly when balanced out by Roxanne’s own glowing voice on the chorus. Roxanne treads new territory of her own on the downbeat pop of “Driving,” though unfortunately the results are less convincing; her awkward enunciation and noodly doot-doo-doot-doo refrains sound more amateurish than ethereal. Much better is the intimate “Sword,” whose tactile polyrhythms circle around Roxanne’s pitch-shifted melodies to elicit a sweet, alien tenderness.
At times the two musicians teeter so close to the edge of formlessness that they spill over into a nondescript electronic haze, particularly as the record begins to wind down. But if Roxanne brings one thing above all else to Piñeyro’s sound, it’s a sense of serenity. Though Piñeyro has shown himself capable of concocting heavenly jams of his own, his fascination with twitchy illbient has largely lent his music to dim, ravey basements compared to the tranquil meditations Roxanne conjures with her performances. Natural Wonder Beauty Concept finds a magic zone between those two worlds: sleek yet damaged, peaceful yet ghostly, a new-age record for the comedown lounge. So often supergroups end up failing to become more than the sum of their parts, or struggle to cleanly thread the needle between its band members’ distinct voices. Where Natural Wonder Beauty Concept shines is in the way it uses Roxanne and Piñeyro’s common ground to reveal deeper textures buried within each artist’s work. When they align in that sweet, blurry middle, both projects feel even more alive with possibility.
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