Lucrecia Dalt’s tiny sci-fi songs sound like a big deal


Having listened to Colombian singer-composer Lucrecia Dalt’s new album, “¡Ay!,” for five consecutive afternoons — without reading a word about it, without typing any of its Spanish lyrics into a digital translator — I felt convinced that her music was about the metaphysics of scale, about how songs can make us feel big or small.

You know the sensation, right? Listen to the right classic-rock riff and you’re towering over life like a tree. Cue up a bossa nova lullaby and you’re a babe in your mother’s arms. Big music allows us to expand. Tiny music can help us shrink. But if we are giving Dalt’s new album the fullness of our attention, we might feel both forces at once. Her musical bigness begets sensorial smallness.

It all happens through timbre. This is a richly percussive, luxuriously spacious recording, with Dalt singing tenderly over various bolero-shaped rhythms, each song unspooling patiently, inviting you to notice its details. In your mind’s ear, the textures quickly begin to feel larger than life. Or maybe more like life enlarged.

Hand drums seem to boast the diameter of trampolines. The woodwinds sound taller than telephone poles. An assortment of leaky-faucet beats routinely threaten to douse us with a single droplet. During the sumptuous pitter-pat of “El Galatzó,” there is one particular squeak that sounds like a squeegee the size of an airplane tail trying to wipe our minds clean. Is this world getting bigger? Or are we getting smaller?

Plot twist: After that aforementioned fifth spin of “¡Ay!,” I finally read an interview with Dalt published on the site Subbacultcha and promptly learned that I’d been listening to a different kind of science fiction. Turns out that “¡Ay!” is a narrative concept album about a roving, immaterial, atemporal consciousness that, upon becoming embodied, enters society in hopes of understanding its five Aristotelian senses.

“There are many forms in science fiction,” Dalt tells her interviewer. “I guess the type I like is the one working with classic questions about our finitude and limitations as humans.” She cites the influence of Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” the 1976 film in which David Bowie plays a depressed alien visitor masquerading as a tech entrepreneur, describing it as “very much sci-fi, yet not so straightforward.”

How far off is “The Man Who Fell to Earth” from the nonexistent David Lynch reboot of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” that had been looping inside my head for nearly a week? Not all that far off, maybe. Dalt’s protagonist is trying to reconcile an innate sense of atemporality with a tactile experience of the physical world, sussing out the boundaries — and the connections — between space and time. The fact that Dalt’s music can convey her concept album’s spatial ideas through sound alone might be enough to breathe some fresh vitality into that old cliche of music as a universal language, in this case, a language capable of transcending our humanness.

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