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Carlos Niño & Friends - Aquariusssssss

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Artist: Carlos Niño & Friends

Album: Aquariusssssss

Label: Porter

Review date: May. 25, 2012

Like many a successful pickpocket, Carlos Niño doesn’t usually work alone. A solo release is the albino alligator in the Angeleno’s discography, a rarity amongst the long-standing groups and one-off collaborations. The “& Friends” appendage made its first redundant appearance after Niño’s name on 2009’s High With a Little Help From, and it returns on Aquariusssssss, an album of space age dreamcatchers that features familiar collaborators like Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Daedelus, and the members of Niño’s Build an Ark crew. It’s all positive energy and majestic wonder on this disc, with goopy track titles like “Sparkling Arch of Existence” and “Trance Elation of Transformance” serving as not-so-subtle hints at the sort of starry-eyed ambience that awaits the listener. Still, it’s not an album to be dismissed out of hand, as much as a phrase like “Bath of Breath Crystal Crescendo” might otherwise suggest.

Niño may live in Los Angeles, but Aquariusssssss evokes visions of more exotic environs, both fantastical and real. Recordings of falling water, singing birds, chirping crickets and the like are abundant on the album, along with the sort of synthesizer tones and twinkles that one might expect. Some of the album’s simplest tracks are its most effective. “...and the Fire Dragon dreams.” (which features Jesse Peterson and Janitor) overlays water, dripping and rushing, with lightly wavering tones and spare, placidly plucked guitar. It’s an unfussy and straightforward endeavor, and one of the easiest to enjoy on the album. Still, any muddying of the waters is welcome, like the samples and saxophone in “Shapeshift of Uranus,” made with Postal Service employee Dntel. These divergences from the expected, often fleeting, need not spoil the album’s vibe: “Mezame (Awakening)” starts things off with sonorous strings from Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and while this isn’t miles apart from the rest of the disc in tone, it’s a variation in approach that could have nicely been reprised to great effect a little later on.

It’s obvious that Niño, whose Spaceways radio show spans a wide spectrum, is well-versed in the established tools of the trade when it comes to ethereal, meditative, and ambient music. The arpeggios that appear midway through “Listening to the Conversations of the Birds,” the combo of gentle waves and drones on “Precipitation of Paradise,” and rounded edges of the celestial tones in “Yujyou (Friendship)” are totally textbook, wielded skillfully, but in such a familiar manner that the album doesn’t always get too far beyond the music for relaxation sold in the local emporium for healing crystals and magical runes. Maybe Niño is into that sort of thing, in which case Aquariusssssss makes sense as a 21st century extension of the classic new age ethos, a variation on Pure Moods for the kids of the computer age.

By Adam Strohm

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