Gabriel Garzón-Montano makes quiet magic on ‘Jardín’

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Gabriel Garzón-Montano Jardín | Stones Throw Records
Grade: A-

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In February 2015, a full year after releasing his debut album Bishouné: Alma del Huila, Gabriel Garzón-Montano emerged from obscurity to become an overnight sensation as the sampled voice on Drake’s “Jungle” that suffocated so tenderly under Drake’s own vocals. In the years that followed, there was no new music from Garzón-Montano. There was no tour. There was no attempt to follow the easy path to growing grandeur and fame that could have been. By 2016, he had disappeared entirely. Just as quickly as he had emerged out of the world of bandcamp releases, he was forgotten again.

With Jardín, Garzón-Montano’s sophomore album, Garzón-Montano establishes his artistry in relation to R&B. He places himself in firm and intentional opposition to the vast grandeur that so often envelops the genre. On Jardín, Garzón-Montano uses vocal layering to design a world that bursts with a bewitchingly luminous intimacy and still manages to be understood within the confines of the terrestrial.

Album opener “Trial” shows Garzón-Montano at his most minimal while showcasing his layered vocals. A singular voice is carried slowly by cautious instrumentals until it splits into two harmonious strains, and then four. In some ways, this small taste of Garzón-Montano’s absolute control over his soundscape is his most powerful. He gently nurtures his barest vocal performance on the album until it blooms into harmony over the song. As far as shows of artistry go, it’s the most underwhelming vocal performance on the album. As a passage between the real world and the world contained within Jardín, it’s brilliant.

From there the album grows into a beautifully contained maximalist vision that exists between the languishing yearning of Garzón-Montano’s centerpiece vocals and the staccato exuberance of the production elements that frame them.

“The Game,” the second single to be released from the album, is the most complete microcosm of the album’s vision. On “The Game,” Garzón-Montano’s bouncing vocals serve as the bulk of the track’s instrumental landscape. By trellising these vocal snippets with steadily marching percussion and moody keyboard, Garzón-Montano creates an enclosure for his lyrics that is as vast as he may conceivably need without approaching boundlessness. The limits of an unfamiliar fantasy world must be understood before it can be fully delved into. Here, Garzón-Montano expertly defines the boundaries of the world using the language that exists within the world itself. “The Game” becomes an encyclopedic reference to the lexicon of the album.

At the same time, Garzón-Montano creates magic within “The Game” by alternating between a matter-of-fact quasi spoken word and a carefree singsong as he delivers his verses. It is on the chorus that each element of the song melts into coherence and, for just a moment in the chorus, the entirety of Garzón-Montano’s vision on Jardín is visible. Here, the instrumental framework of the verses carries over as Garzón-Montano finds a middle ground between the two competing tones and glazes them over with a fine layer of elegantly soaring vocals.

Perhaps the most impressive feat that Garzón-Montano accomplishes through each moment on Jardín is transparency. Each piece is carefully and clearly laid out without being obscured by any other. No note is lost in Garzón-Montano’s intricate streams of harmonies, and no soaring vocal arc exists without a clearly defined beginning and end.

Jardín ends just as it opened — with Garzón-Montano’s vocals being lightly caressed by piano and vocal harmonies. The transition from Garzón-Montano’s elaborately constructed world back to undemanding tenderness is abrupt. It has the quality of being rudely awoken from a dream to come face to face with a lovely reality. Perhaps it is ironic, then, that the album’s closer is titled “Lullaby.”

Yet, “Lullaby” is distinct from “Trial” in that here, Garzón-Montano’s vocals have a sense of gentle triumph about them. The instrumentals, too, become softer, perhaps from a sense of success in his world-building and perhaps as an attempt to make it easier to bid a farewell to a world.

With Jardín, Garzón-Montano ultimately succeeds in uncovering the secretive magic of the physical world just as he builds an alternate universe in which this magic and ecstasy lies in plain sight.

Sannidhi Shukla covers music. Contact her at [email protected].