The mission statement of Ernest Gonzales’s Exponential imprint claims that it makes “electronic music for humans” — an aspiration almost as well-worn as the Oscar Wilde pun in the headline. But there’s an emotional warmth to the San Antonio native’s melancholy synthesis of acoustic guitars, 8-Bit nostalgia, and melting synths. Sonically, it’s a distant cousin to the bleary laments of the “glo-fi” brigade that elicited hype and hate from the quarters of the Internet who actively enjoy discussing Vampire Weekend over horchata at dinner parties. But rather than layer frail falsettos over the digital foundation, Gonzales opts for instrumentalism — a smart decision that saves the aorta-on-sleeve sentiments from becoming soppy.
Last night, the Friends of Friends label took over Low End Theory, with Gonzales and Shlohmo (Pop & Hiss interview here) occupying opposite extremes. The latter is clearly a progeny of the Low End aesthetic. Dilla + Dubstep + Warp Records IDM, run through a filter of found sounds and found weed (pick it up, pick it up). Granted, I mention marijuana more than Byron Crawford mentions Christina Hendricks, but both are defensible gestures. After all, as Michaelangelo Matos said in his Onion column, the Low End is essentially operating as the frontline of IDM. Yet it’s divorced from ideology or any antagonism towards the Aoki DANCE DANCE set or the more continental crowds that swarm the Avalon to catch the latest overpriced import. And like any scene more narcotic than chemical, it’s more conducive to head-bobbing than doing the Ricky Bobby.
Rocking the Low End for the first time, Gonzalez’s sound seemed softer and suppler in contrast with the sharp stabbing synths and King Kong bass endemic to the spot. It boasted the sort of emotional introspection you’d expect from a guy who titled his album Been Meaning to Tell You, with cuts like “Purple Heart,” “We Can Live in a Forest,” and “Dancing in the Snow.” It’s after-the-high music, the soundtrack to the desolation and disorientation of sleeplessness and depleted Serotonin. Like his brethren Aether (who is signed to Gonzales’ Exponential imprint), Gonzales’ music limns both its surroundings and the sky above. Which is an important route to remember so the sounds don’t get stranded in outer space.