Lucrecia Dalt is trying to process the success of her most recent album, the sensuous sci-fi-bolero art-pop wonder that is ¡Ay!. As we speak, ¡Ay! is gradually finding itself at the high end of numerous Best Of 2022 lists. “I’m genuinely surprised,” she says, from a hotel room in Bogotá where she is currently on tour.
It’s an understandable point of curiosity. ¡Ay! is undeniably Dalt’s most accessible LP to date, calling to mind similar art-pop margin walkers as Björk’s Homogenic and Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness. But it was born of a wildly experimental idea with its roots in her childhood in Pereira, Colombia, and conceived at a crossroads in a career that has been anything but mainstream. “Seven years ago I did a mix of bolero music for a friend, the music that I’d grown up with,” she explains. “My parents always played bolero. It was cosy music to me and I wanted to return to that cosiness in the pandemic.”
Ironically, just prior to the pandemic, Dalt had released her seventh studio LP, No Era Sólida, a record MOJO described as “seductive and disturbing, like fog-borne siren songs, or the ghosts of liturgical choirs caught high in the cathedral vault.” “Yeah,” she now says with a laugh, “I thought, I’ve made this album for dark times and now we’re living in dark times. I felt like I was contributing to everything that was going on. That was definitely a breaking point for me.”
Dalt’s own emotional response to No Era Sólida shaped the very different sounds on ¡Ay!. “It was partly about revisiting the sounds of my upbringing. But it was also intense and a little bit terrifying. I wanted to return to those sounds but not in an obvious way, challenging that idea of nostalgia by processing the drums a certain way, using synthesizers.”
She imagined herself as an alien arriving on planet Earth and licking rocks in order to understand the geological history of the planet.
That indirect way meant Dalt conceiving of a concept album, imagining herself as an alien, Preta, arriving on planet Earth (Mallorca, to be precise) and licking rocks in order to understand the geological history of the planet. The lyrics – comic, onomatopoeic, drawing on lyrical influences as diverse as Serge Gainsbourg and US poet Alice Fulton – are conveyed in a sensuous singing voice that’s rarely been heard on Dalt’s previous recordings. “I agree,” she says. “A lot of that was to do with overcoming certain fears about having my voice upfront and transparent. That was also an excuse to kind of expose ideas I’d left off previous LPs. I’ve never felt compelled to write about my personal life but embedded in the album, ambiguously and through the lens of sci-fi, thermodynamics and geology, I’m thinking about love.”
The incorporation of ideas from geology come from what Dalt refers to as “my engineering brain”, namely a degree in Civil Engineering and two years in the early-noughties working for a company focused on soil studies. “I started to think about ideas of geological time and how that relates to our own concept of time,” she says. “I was also watching Werner Herzog’s Lessons Of Darkness, this exercise in trying to look at the earth with compassion.”
In terms of where this new world view will take her next, Dalt is hesitant to say, but admits that percussion and rhythm remain the constant. “I know I want to write something more personal and poetic, because that’s the only thing I have in my mind right now, and a lot of voice. Right now, that’s the only thing I know.”
¡Ay! is out now on RVNG Intl.
● For fans of: Julia Holter, Björk, Actress, Laurie Spiegel.
● Salt has also scored soundtracks for horror films The Seed (2021) and The Baby (2022). “It’s such a different discipline,” she says. “On my own albums I can spend months on just one piece going back and forth. Here you’re working very quickly, creating ideas on a daily basis and you know you can never go back to it once it’s done.”
● Dalt’s favourite instrument is her Prophet 6 synthesizer. “I’ve been listening a lot to David Sylvian and Japan and I just fell in love with that exact type of synth sound you hear on Tin Drum.”
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