by David Crone

In the dark, sultry sound of 2017’s RnB, it is often hard to make oneself stand out from the crowd. Artists such as Bryson Tiller, PARTYNEXTDOOR and 6LACK have sought to capture the same ‘lightning in a bottle’ found by The Weeknd, whose use of this style earned 3.6 million sales of his 2015 Beauty Behind the Madness. In this hazy, drugged-out atmosphere of lost love and promiscuity, it is often hard for artists to find individual ground to stand on. Luckily for Peruvian upcomer A.CHAL, ON GAZ is just different enough to establish his individuality, whilst keeping the dark and clouded sound favoured by his predecessors.

In an interview with TIDAL, A.CHAL described the album as a “Latin beach boy in Malibu”,  “chilling by the sand at night” in a “moment of decompressing”. Indeed, in ON GAZ, this “Latin” side of his music is much more evident. Whilst his Latin influence surfaced a few times across his debut Welcome to GAZI, it was always heard briefly, before fading out or being overwhelmed by a more traditional RnB sound.

On this new record, however, three of the eleven tracks are bilingual – trap-influenced Cuánto, Latin-influenced jam Love N Hennessy and the half-ballad of Perdóname. When juxtaposed with the more traditional sound featured across the record, these tracks are huge landmarks of influence – the listener can hear A.CHAL’s history seeping into the tracks, bringing us closer to the artist himself and creating a personal flavour of RnB.

And indeed, this record sees Alejandro Chal at his most personal. Historically tending to shy away from biography, Chal’s own life has never been central to his work. However, ON GAZ is somewhat different - on Cuánto he wails “I remember bein’ six / They hit my tío’s spot for a lick / Abuela took me to the side and told me / Be careful who you let inside.” These windows into Chal’s life are brief, but necessary, painting a picture of the experiences that shape his work.

Sonically, the album is impressive. The genre’s tendency for washed-out, simplistic production is eschewed here, with Chal’s vocals delicately placed over lush, vibrant instrumentals. Following in the vein of music titan Kanye West, Chal focuses on voice, using vocal samples to add character to his instrumentals. Whether it be distorted Hispanic mumblings on Cuánto or despondent trills on Round Whippin’ (Remix), these snippets add a layer of humanity and a further personal touch to the record.

Despite this, however, there is a sense of something lacking. Despite the various attempts to distance Chal from his contemporaries, there are only a few moments of unique musical excellence here. One such is on the remix of Chal’s Round Whippin, ending the record with a reprise of Chal’s previous success. In this sense, it almost feels like a victory lap – Chal parades his original hit once more, yet this time accompanied by French Montana and a hint of commercial success. Whilst the track loses its original ambient introduction, French Montana’s addition creates much-needed variation, producing an atmospheric and undeniably catchy track.

Likewise, Past Chick marks another high point for the record. Despite a stereotypical subject matter, its blend of styles allows it to shine. Introduced by a moody sample from Travis Scott’s RaRa, Chal’s blend of rapping and soulful singing creates a canvas on which to paint a story of past love. This, when combined with Latin-influenced guitars and spaced-out synths, creates an excellently-devised sonic experience.

Perhaps the only failing of Past Chick is its simplicity. The chorus’ repeated “bout no past chick” and wailing “ooh”s seem too pop-centric for Chal’s unique artistic style, and detract from the often more complex instrumentals. Whilst it would be perhaps unreasonable to search for another Frank Ocean within this more formulaic style of RnB, one would indeed hope for something less simple.

This simplicity indeed mars much of the work. To The Light, introduced by beautiful strings and Chal’s trademark vocals, is quickly spoiled by the over-use of the same lines: “the light” is repeated 31 times over the song’s three and a half minutes. Similarly, the washed-out, hazy instrumentals of Shadows and Perdóname are spoiled by their bland and uninteresting choruses. ON GAZ, for all its successes, loses its footing through such simplistic vocal choices.

Despite its lyrical shortcomings, ON GAZ marks a move to further individuality by Chal. Throughout the record we can hear the familiar sounds of Chal’s debut, marked with a newfound confidence and a greater musical fluidity. The artistic and varied instrumentals, however, are held down by simplistic subjects and lyrics, resulting in a project that flips between frustration and ecstasy. Overall, Chal’s work is indeed an improvement and enjoyable listen, but lacks the artistic integrity to truly excel.