Amor Muere: a time to love, a time to die

The music of Mexico City-based collective Amor Muere stretches between dream states and the waking world. The group—comprising cellist and songwriter Mabe Fratti, singer and sound artist Camille Mandoki, violinist Gibrana Cervantes, and electronic musician and tape manipulator Concepción Huerta—built their project on a foundation of friendship and creative collaboration. The four women have been performing live within the local scene for years, sitting in on each other’s sets and participating in a larger-scale multidisciplinary piece written and directed by Mandoki. As Amor Muere (translation: “Love Dies”), they seek free expression within a democratic setting. On their debut album, a time to love, a time to die, they tap into the reaches of their conjoined minds and extract avant-garde compositions grafted from gritty electronic textures, discordant strings, and soaring vocal melodies. Even in their most abstract sketches, each musician retains a distinct fingerprint. But their work also seems hewn by a single set of hands.

To create their debut, Amor Muere expanded and refined material developed over multiple jam sessions in recent years. Some songs highlight the dynamics of texture and silence: The wordless “Shhhhh” captures a frantic, creaking conversation between Fratti’s cello and Cervantes’ violin. The dialogue is sparse at first, but whips into a tangled frenzy as Huerta and Mandoki goad the string players with digital blasts and distorted washes of synthesizer. Fratti sings the lead vocal on “LA,” a sun-dappled counterpart to the moody “Shhhhh” that tracks the interplay between bowed strings and electronic atmospheres. Her tone is mottled but reflective, like slightly smudged glass. “Suave aire sobre la cabeza/Sabe a dónde llegar” (“Soft air over our heads/Knows where to arrive”), she sings. Measuring the impulse of a breeze that drifts naturally yet with seeming purpose, Fratti’s lyrics—steeped in dream logic—might be an ode to improvisation itself.

“LA” shares DNA with Vidrio, a new album Fratti made with Héctor Tosta under the name Titanic. That record is lighter, more traditionally melodic, and relies on Fratti’s delicate, watercolor voice to illuminate the duo’s vibrant, roving jazz compositions. But with Amor Muere, Fratti is free to wander across craggier terrain, and her voice offers a dulcet reprieve from the strange noises she and her bandmates conjure. On “Can We Provoke Reciprocal Reaction,” Fratti’s vocalizations intertwine with Mandoki’s smoky timbre, repeating, “Oh, this life/I want it all again/I faded out,” atop plucked strings and wailing synthesizer. The ambling, circular rhythm mimics the song’s inspiration: a daily walk. Amor Muere treat the quotidian activity with a sense of wonder, peppering the song with springy, metallic, jaw-harp-like noises, injecting a sense of playfulness into the sense of repetitive motion.

Mandoki sings lead on “Love Dies,” the first piece Amor Muere wrote as a group. Her dry, gauzy vocal sounds like it’s creeping up from the earth, coated in a thin veil of soil. Cervantes and Fratti’s keening strings lure Mandoki’s voice upward, into the golden air. The collaborative nature of the music is so instinctual, it often seems like the band is fluidly exchanging complex ideas using only their instruments —as on the 19-minute ambient closer “Violetas y Malvas,” which is among the group’s most freeform compositions. It is so free, in fact, that Fratti and Mandoki unspool nonverbal passages rather than sing intelligible lyrics. But there is no shortage of communication. Whether responding to Huerta’s warped ribbons of tape, or Mandoki’s crackling synth phrases, the members of Amor Muere have crafted a nuanced and seemingly telepathic dialect of their own.