Nicola Cruz has rapidly become one of my favorite techno artists. Cruz is an Ecuadorian electronic musician who takes the sounds of his home seriously. He made his most recent album “Siku” around the Andean flute of the same name. For Cruz, it feels like the unique sounds of Ecuador aren’t just instrumental loops waiting to be made, but themes waiting to be executed on.
“Siku” shows just how dedicated Cruz is to capturing the full meaning behind the instruments and ideas on his album. The first track, “Arka,” was recorded in an extinct volcano near Cruz’s home, with the help of a siku expert. The rest of the album carries that same devotion to the spirit and culture around Cruz.
Yet, “Siku” isn’t just strong for it’s Ecuadorian sound. At its core, “Siku” is excellent techno. Cruz has a great sense of the music culture around him and how to use it, but he also has a tremendous sense of techno and ambient electronic music in general.
Traditional techno creates a lulling, hypnotic rhythm by using a lot of overlapping loops, letting a beat go on repeat for a whole song at times. If techno artists don’t do it right, songs can get boring to the point where the hypnotic spell is broken. “Siku” has very few boring points, and while it often relies on loops, Cruz has a great sense of when to add and drop sounds, as well as when to change up the composition and break the lull.
Cruz does a great job of mixing up the sounds and compositions of songs in “Siku” while still sticking to the general techno style. in “Señor de las Piedras” Cruz falls into an up and down rhythm that sounds like it comes from a Western. The principal loop he uses is a shaker akin to a maraca, but he adds a lot along the way, like a spacey synthesizer rhythm and super distorted vocals. The beat is a lot quicker in “Señor de las Piedras” and the distortions and vocal layering make it feel a lot more wild and energetic.
“Okami” follows “Señor de las Piedras” and creates an immediate contrast. “Okami” has more techno elements than most tracks on the album and is pure lowkey, downtempo bliss. It almost sounds like a peak Bonobo track, full of pleasantly repetitive bells and electronic whistles. It’s a welcome cooldown and contrast to the last song and it shows the kind of range you can expect to hear in “Siku.” While all songs have a general techno feeling to them, they carry a lot of different moods and styles.
While all the tracks have their own elements that make them interesting, the album maintains a constant feeling of eerie mysticism to it that keeps everything unified. Odd echoes, vocal distortions, rattling shakers, rapid drums, aggressive flutes, and smooth vocalists lend the album a persistent ethereal feeling. Some songs lean more into the vibe – -“Siete,” “”El Diablo Me Va a Llevar,” “Señor de las Piedras,” and others lean away – – “Hacia Delante,” “Criançada,” “Esu Enia,” but every song feels like it belongs on the album.
“Siku” also has a great balance of pleasant and challenging sounds, making it a great album to listen to front to back, headphones in, full or half attention on it. Cruz isn’t afraid to use really discordant, harsh sounds and the album benefits from it. While concordant and pleasant loops are easier to fall into, the harsher ones command a lot more attention. The harsh siku flute “Siku,” uses mostly smooth and pleasant sounds, including a gorgeous flute and bass line. Even within songs, Cruz will mix the weird and harsh with the smooth and familiar, creating great blends.
If you like techno and looping Ecuadorian rhythms, then there isn’t much to dislike in “Siku.” It’s a rich album that features a lot of vocal, instrumental, and compositional talent. If I had to gripe, I’d say it can get boring with multiple listens, once you’ve had the time to pick apart every loop and piece of each song. There are a few songs that struck me as a bit too repetitive, but I still enjoyed them. Managing repetition is something most techno artists have to face and Cruz does a better job of that than most.
If great, ambient electronic music is what you’re looking for, then don’t miss out on “Siku.” Don’t miss out on Nicola Cruz in general. Go listen to “Prender el Alma,” too.