Album Review: Federico Durand - Pequeñas Melodías

For someone as prolific as he is capable of being, there was a moment—albeit brief—where I was slightly concerned that Federico Durand was not going to release an album—either collaborative or solo—in 2018.

However, my fears were alleviated with the announcement of Pequeñas Melodías—more or less translating to Little Melodies—released via the prestigious French imprint, IIKKI, as a standard CD, LP, or as part of a special edition, which includes a lavish book of photography from Anna Cabrera and Angel Albarrán.

The album itself may be his 14th solo release, give or take, and there’s one thing that is very apparent as Pequeñas Melodías slowly unpacks itself—Durand has always been a very diverse composer of ambient and experimental music, and here, he’s outdone himself, creating some of his most contemplative, evocative, and possibly the best work of his career thus far.

Pequeñas Melodías is not so much a departure for Durand—but it does find him, as a composer and performer of ambient, experimental, and instrumental music, working within a wider scope when compared to his solorelease from last year, La Niña Junco, which was structured around the use of a specific, antiquated, dusty sounding synthesizer, and additional effects and looping pedals. Here, Durand pulls together sounds from field recordings, acoustic instrumentation, manipulated tape loops, music boxes, and sustained electric piano tones, among other things, to create a vast, lush sounding world that is both innocent and whimsical sounding, as well as being introspective, bittersweet, and somber.

Unraveling itself deliberately across nine compositions, the shortest being less than two minutes, and the longest being nearly eight, Pequeñas Melodías burns incredibly slowly, yet brightly, from start to finish—it’s fulfilling and wondrous in ways that you wish all albums you listened to were.

Pequeñas Melodías doesn’t so much take a while to find its pacing, but Durand really hits his emotional stride as the album reaches its mid section—creating a devastating three track sequence that begins with “Los Juguetes De Minka Podhájská,” or “The Toys of Minka Podhájská,” if Google is translating this correctly. It’s less than three minutes, and it is more or less the same decaying tape loop over and over again of a gently plucked acoustic guitar—the pacing with which the plucks occur is incredibly deliberate, as an additional, less hypnotic, guitar melody drifts delicately over the top of it, pulled out from the instrument’s higher strings.

“Toys” is incredibly arresting in its simplicity—in its ability to draw you in, and make you lose track of everything around you (good instrumental/ambient music should be able to do that effortlessly), but more importantly, how emotionally evocative it is just by looping a sequence of a few guitar string plucks. It, like a song further on in the album, craft a soundtrack for your most pensive, most introspective moments.

“Racimos De Luz,” more or less, translates cumbersomely to “Light Clusters,” which is a fitting title for the track. For nearly eight minutes, Durand alternates between lengthily sustained synthesizer tones, creating an undeniable blend of something that, at times, can be mildly dissonant, depending on what kind of cacophony the tones piling up on each other create; or, startlingly comforting and reassuring.

Pequeñas Melodías crowning achievement arrives in its sixth track, “Anís,” which is, hyperbole aside, the kind of composition that I could actually listen to all day—though after awhile, that may just become too devastating, so maybe it’s for the best that Durand keeps it at five minutes.

Another loop based track, “Anís” is comprised of various pulled and sustained tones that ring out hard before glistening out and fading away into the ether; with the spaces in between the tones creating a gorgeous space as things overlap, come together melodically, or create small ripples of feedback. The whole thing—all five minutes of it—is the equivalent of the warmest, most nostalgic Instagram filter, applied to every moment of your life—both the mundane, an the wondrous.

It, alone, is truly something marvelous to behold.

Pequeñas Melodías isn’t always a torrent of emotion—“The Garden of Ancient Roses,” (“El Jardín De Rosas Antiguas”), bounces along almost playfully or whimsically, as Durand strings together a selection of warm sounding tones from a Rhodes piano; and both “The Stars Turn on The Pine” (“Las Estrellas Giran En El Pinar”) and “Canción Del Reloj Cucú,” or, “The Cuckoo Clock Song,” are both comprised of Durand’s trademark usage of manipulated music box chimes.

The album concludes with two more directly somber pieces—the lengthy “La Tarde Ronda Por La Casa” (“The Afternoon Goes ‘Round The House”), a track that layers more meditative and pensive Rhodes piano, with quiet, swirling reversed chime noises looped just in the distance; and “The Blue Cedar,” a brief epilogue of sorts to the record that takes an undercurrent of atmosphere, and tucks it in neatly with very, very deliberate and very somber keyboard chords.

In my time listening to his body of work, Federico Durand has never disappointed. With Pequeñas Melodías, however, he has made a definitive statement of beauty. Ambient, experimental, and instrumental music can, at times, be a difficult genre of music to access, but this record is both easy on the ears to a casual listener, as well as being impressive in its soothing and hypnotic nature, drawing a visceral, emotional response from its listener.

Whether on his own, or working collaboratively with another artist (as he often does), Pequeñas Melodías is proof that Federico Durand continues to grow as a performer and composer, creating thoughtful, albeit small, melodies that stay with you for long after the record has reached its conclusion.

Pequeñas Melodías is out now as a limited edition CD, LP, or as part of a book of photography. All of those are available via IIKKI.