The era of soul-stirring R&B continues, this time with Alejandro Chal who delivers an all too familiar tale of sex, drugs and heartbreak.
Alejandro Chal, a Peruvian-born artist who’s based between LA and New York, has been making music for a while now. He released an EP in 2013 titled ‘Ballroom Riots’, which explored a druggy R&B sound. After the release of ‘Ballroom Riots’, Chal disappeared for a couple of years, only to resurface with the single ‘Gazi,’ produced by Grammy nominated producer Count Justice. A new era was birthed from that moment onwards.
A.CHAL’s music is a new discovery; his name and album artwork resemble a potentially, vibrant, trippy EDM album. Instead, he packed a punch with 31 minutes of smooth, effervescent R&B/Rap. The sonic aesthetic of his debut album ‘Welcome to Gazi’ is diverse, encompassing his influences en masse. From thick, frenzied musical backdrops that buzz between the synth-laden chaos, lending a semblance to the sound and nature of naked electricity to tropical infused, sleazy instrumentals, all together creating a hazy, drugged-out experience. There’s a notable take on both Drake’s and The Weeknd’s (as well as others) sound throughout the record. ‘Welcome to Gazi’ joins the current wave of dark, sultry R&B meets Rap.
From the get-go it’s apparent what kind of artist A.CHAL is: he’s an individual with his fingers on the pulse of the current R&B landscape. His sonics, lyricism and overall composition is an embodiment of the trend that’s flourishing right now. This lead to a hesitant, indefinite response to the album after one listen.
There’s an overbearing feeling of being conflicted. Despite that feeling, it’s obvious as to what A.CHAL is trying to achieve with his debut album.’Welcome to Gazi’ is a fine example of using your influences to build your own career within a multi-faceted niche. The album is a well-rounded debut and it’s a fast-paced listening experience, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Every track makes its mark, whether it’s because of a wild instrumental that bolsters weak lyricism, or a bold flow dancing over eclectic soundscapes. Although ‘Welcome to Gazi’ is good, it’s fairly derivative.
The problem with an artist’s sound being built by his predecessors, is that the line becomes blurred in regards to identity and authenticity. Questions arise, such as, is A.CHAL being authentic or is it an attempt of who he wants to be? Is this the direction A.CHAL wants to go or is this his take on another artist?
There are standout moments on ‘Welcome to Gazi’ that shows there is A.CHAL’s ‘heart and soul’ (although the lyricism is hardly deep) beneath it all. However, again, they’re countered by moments that sound exactly like another artist. For example, he takes on aspects of Drake’s soft, wounded persona even flow at times. An artist can be both sensitive and original, yet it shouldn’t be too reminiscent of “Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree”.
There are moments where he captures a remarkably similar sound to The Neighbourhood, a Californian pop-rock group with R&B influences. Despite this, A.CHAL has managed to craft a body of work that delivers on the promise he shows. He has an ear for music and the strongest aspect of ‘Welcome to Gazi’ is the instrumentals by far, they’re diverse.
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The best moments on the album can be double-edged swords. They’re a hodgepodge of sounds and it can be overwhelming. The second track ‘Fuego’ is an eerie, purposefully drab affair. Obnoxious blasts of airhorns intercept the sluggish beat, with a dizzying effect, ‘Fuego’ in particular embodies the popular trend of incorporating South American flavourings; slick melodies, bouncy beats, simplistic 1-2 snare patterns and a splash of culture for good measure. This ‘cog’ joins a wide array of other influences, there are too many ingredients in the melting pot and boy, it can get messy. ‘Round Whippin’ is a fine example of that, it continues the trend of meshing his musical influences together albeit a tad overzealously. Moreover, this trend continues to bleed further on into ‘Far From Home’, even though its backbone is a crowded instrumental, it ends up being a nice culmination of both R&B and Rap.
Although ‘Welcome to Gazi’ is a bundle of sound, CHAL knows how to write a hook: this album is full of them. His vocal melodies really shine when his lyricism is succinct rather than flashy. The strongest track is the superb ‘Memories’, built up by strong verses and a killer chorus. The entire song is a perfect example of what CHAL is capable of. Its foundation is a hard-hitting beat, evoking a fiery sensation inside. His machine-gun-like, spaced-out delivery oozes effortlessly into the bombastic chorus. It’s one of the few moments where CHAL sounds like his own artist.
People are going to read this and think, ‘Isn’t this being a little too hard on him?’. Familiarity and even blatant sharing of ideas is prevalent in every genre of music, so what’s the problem? The issue here is the conflict it generates, interfering with the listening experience. As somebody who is passionate about music, it’s difficult to give credit for the sake of it. Yes, CHAL manages to create and sustain a cohesive sound from start to finish, and it’s definitely worth a listen, but it isn’t enough to warrant a barrage of praise.
‘Welcome to Gazi’ is an exercise in demonstrating what A.CHAL is capable of and how far he’s come since ‘Ballroom Riots’. The progression is evident, however there’s still someway to go. While the album is an all-round decent body of work, there are too many moments of ‘we’ve been here before’. Beginning with Drake-esque vocal inflections and ending with an overall vibe of a ‘borrowed’ sound. It’s hindered by inconsistent lyrical content too. Even though ‘Welcome to Gazi’ is unoriginal, it’s well-done, featuring many moments that shine. It isn’t enough though, not in a highly competitive and saturated genre such as this, especially during the boom that Dark R&B is experiencing.
‘Welcome to Gazi’ is marred by relying heavily on the influences and peers that have helped inspired it. When it’s good, it’s really good, then suddenly, we’ve heard it all before. Alejandro Chal has the blueprint for success, it’s just a case of making it his own.
‘Welcome to Gazi’ is out now via GAZI World.
This A.CHAL article was written by Jake Gould, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.