ICYMI: On His Solo Debut, 'Fantasmas,' Zavala Is A Messenger Of Relief : Alt.Latino The Chicago producer ventures into instrumental electronic music that evokes both his home city and the openness of nature.
NPR logo ICYMI: On His Solo Debut, 'Fantasmas,' Zavala Is A Messenger Of Relief


ICYMI: On His Solo Debut, 'Fantasmas,' Zavala Is A Messenger Of Relief


On his first full-length solo album, Fantasmas (Ghosts), Alexander Zavala appears to us — amidst specters — as a messenger of sonic relief.

The Chicago-based artist and producer, who performs under his last name only, has previously made music more in line with hip-hop. He's worked as one half of Dark Time Sunshine, in the company of Seattle rapper Onry Ozzborn, and their atmospheric cornucopia and stylistic eclecticism is witnessed in Fantasmas. But in 2015, Zavala released the EP Memory Traps, where you could hear him start to experiment with more electronic sounds in songs like "Terapia."

Courtesy of the artist
zavala cover
Courtesy of the artist

In Fantasmas, released in January, Zavala ventures more fully into instrumental electronic music, exploring the fundamentals of what made the genre — and its cousins and subgenres, house, UKG, trip-hop and techno — so emblematic. Like any good explorer, he is keen to acknowledge the sonic landmarks to which he has traveled. The backdrop and atmosphere call to mind his city, Chicago, while at the same time evoking nature's openness. That juxtaposition can be found in "Roosevelt & Letting Go," where these contradictory spaces dance harmoniously as they reclaim the beauty in synthesis.

Elsewhere, light, energetic flashes come with transitions full of detours — as on "The IFS," where Zavala takes us on a cathartic trip that will end up becoming sound therapy from his synth-charged reflections. The wavy, ethereal build-up that had begun in "Mirrors" introduces the electric surprises that will become the album's signature.

Ghosts are commonly used as an artistic motif in order to encapsulate an emotion and fix it in time. Fantasmas, with its balanced melodies, is no exception to this pattern; it catches those feelings in music, to be with you long after you turn it off.