Pop Culture

Album Review: Mabe Fratti, ‘Sentir que no sabes’

Mabe Fratti understands improvisation as part of human nature, a conduit to our chaotic inner lives. “With myself, I sometimes can be very neurotic in my everyday life, but there are moments where I feel extremely fluent and that’s when I feel extremely comfortable,” the Guatemalan cellist told us in 2021, and this flow naturally extends to her playing. “I see improvisation as a means to understand yourself better, or even enrich or nourish yourself.” As much as it burrows reflexively inwards, her music exists and arises as a product of deliberation and communication – on a purely technical level, her latest album, Sentir que no sabes, was built around conversations with her partner and Titanic bandmate Hector Tosta (aka I. La Católica), which would last “until things became inevitable.” Through it, the boundaries of the mind and its surroundings become elastic, but rather than creating a gap between the artist and the listener, Fratti’s fertile imagination acts as the bridge. The results are raw, startling, and liberating.

n press materials, Fratti is quick to identify the quality that differentiates Sentir que no sabes – her fourth solo record in the span of five years – from her previous material: groove. But it’s not an upbeat kind of groove, or one denoting a shift towards pop, but rather the throb of that neurotic awareness. Under a different headspace, the opener ‘Kravitz’ might have loomed into view with a shadowy crawl, but as Fratti transforms her plucked cello into a thundersome instrument, it pummels and stabs – fitting for a song expressing fear about someone listening not just on the other side of the wall, but inside it. A more interpersonal kind of anxiety powers another single, ‘Enfrente’, which, along with one of the most dynamic arrangements on the album, also puts forward its most memorable refrain, though one whose lyrical interiority is aptly represented in the lyric sheet through parentheses. The rhythm here is once again one of trepidation, but Fratti and Tosta are keen to switch things up, driving the song home with some actual drum and bass.

There’s a dance, here, between the nervous emotion in these songs and the musicians’ in-your-face confidence. What jabs at you in Fratti’s music is usually a deft instrumental decision, but ‘Quieras o no’ does so through the introduction of a vocoder that wraps a noose around her voice – a warbled, deeper yearning that tiptoes into a delicate melody. The effect is repurposed on ‘Alarmas olvidadas’, where the house itself is granted a line of dialogue, The song slowly tumbles into the sky before falling into an elegiac conclusion; it should sound like defeat, but it’s almost like a revelation. There’s no lesson other than to understand that everything was a mess, Fratti sings on ‘Pantalla azull’, yet she’s capable of making the whole mess sound like a relief. That’s not to say there’s no ambivalence: on ‘Intento fallido’, she makes her demands clear – I don’t want you around me anymore – before the music, her own instrument, taunts her back. “Y me deshago ante tí.” And I fall apart before you.

Lyrically, Fratti is becoming more expressive and exacting in her songs, which also comes as result of Tosta asking about their meaning. Rather than getting lost in the tangle of words, their heightened vulnerability bleeds into her performance. Two minutes into another lurching song, the closer ‘Angel nuevo’, her soft background vocals are superimposed with a radiant bellow, unlike most anything an experimental artist not named Björk would dare put in a track. Fratti is intensely conscious of how ideas morph and grow throughout the making and duration of a song, a process for which ‘Alivios inventados’ serves as a metaphor: “Acelero enloquecida/ Busco refugio en el cielo/ Que no importa si no existe/ Si lo puedes inventar,” Fratti sings. (“I accelerate madly/ I seek refuge in heaven/ It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t exist/ If you can invent it.”) It’s this proposition she believes in most fervently, this mad hunt that makes the confusion in her music not just bright, but incandescent.

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