Reviews April 20, 2014

Producer, DJ, musician and crate-digging madman, Will “Quantic” Holland has devoted much of his attention to the music of Colombia-- his adopted home of the past seven years-- with projects like Combo Bárbaro and Ondatrópica. His new record, Magnetica (available for pre-order through iTunes), is the first he has released as a solo album since he moved there from England. It’s also likely the most varied album of Quantic’s career, reflecting his deep immersion in the music of both his home countries, as well as an ever-expanding curiosity for music from all over South America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Quantic begins Magnetica by centering himself in the sounds of his childhood in England and the beatmaking of his young adulthood. The opening title track, an instrumental built off an electro-funk groove sprinkled with hints of cumbia and dub, is a return to Quantic’s roots as an electronic producer. He uses the Ableton Live sequencer and synths that he had largely set aside in recent years. The next song, “You Will Return,” features Alice Russell, the British soul singer he worked with two years ago on the album-length collaboration Look Around the Corner. The song has a unique banjo-string arrangement, combining a folk feel with Russell’s gorgeous singing.

Quantic sounds exceedingly comfortable with the music of Colombia after living there for so long. The lively salsa track “Descarga Cuántica,” featuring veteran bandleaders Fruko and Michi Sarmiento, wouldn’t be out of place on a '70s release from Discos Fuentes, the label that put out many classics of the Afro-Colombian canon. The video for “Duvidó,” with costumed revelers celebrating Carnival in Barranquilla and Choco, offers perhaps the best idea of what drew Quantic to Colombia. The song is Quantic’s take on Colombian cumbia and chandé, but the young Angolan singer Pongolove really steals the track with a Portuguese inflection that makes “Duvidó” stand out from the constantly replenished supply of electro-cumbia.

However, Magnetica becomes most interesting when Quantic travels outside of his comfort zone of British folk, electro-funk and Afro-Colombia. While he has previously shown some interest in Ethiopian folk, his Ethio-soul team-up with Dereb the Ambassador comes as one of the most unexpected moments on an album that makes many abrupt shifts. It’s one of Magnetica’s highlights, with Dereb singing passionately in Amharic, backed by a tight guitar/horn/keyboard arrangement. Perhaps the most delightful track on Magnetica is “Spark It,” Quantic’s collaboration with Jamaica's Shinehead. Quantic creates a whistling and feedback-infused dub background for the charismatic presence of Shinehead, who switches up a breathless fast-chat style with singing about consciousness, wellness, music, and of course, sparking it. Quantic’s distinctive production style hits a high point on “Caruro,” which can be best described as off-kilter avant garde electro-pop, with a bit of a dub echo and trumpet blended into the mix, along with very pretty vocals from Brazilian singer Iara Renno.

Magnetica sustains so many stylistic changes because it is held together by Quantic’s production-- with repeated musical phrases building up to crescendos as he layers new instruments and flourishes into the mix. The album closes with a dreamy folk tune called “Painting Silhouettes.” Quantic sings, “Drifting into the horizon/In the silence that surrounds/We were seeping into sunrise/Softly lying on the ground,” while accompanying himself on what sounds like a dulcimer. Whether he’s watching the sunrise in Bogota, revisiting his folk roots, or hanging out in Angola, Quantic carries with him a sense of wonder at just how many musical possibilities are out there, and he seems to master each one he comes across.