It’s not always obvious where Ana Roxanne and DJ Python’s voices meet as Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, which is one of the project’s biggest charms. They’re both artists known for being adjacent to rather than strictly operating within genre, a position they harness to bring out their own concerns and sensibilities; Roxanne’s distilled take on ambient and dream pop provides a canvas for her captivating vocals, while Brian Piñeyro’s innovations within dembow and deep reggaetón have grown wistful, weirder, and more contemplative with each release. Even as their palettes naturally diverge, the experience of listening to their music is often evocative, ethereal, and surprising. On Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, you don’t get the sense that they’re searching for particular points of convergence to maximize that effect or even necessarily working towards a common goal. It’s a profoundly lonely album drawing on the cycle of touring as an electronic musician, capturing brief moments of transcendence in shared spaces but spending most of your time alone. Yet Roxanne and Piñeyro share a connection that drives their music to unexpected places, blurring, probing, and drifting off each other’s sounds until they blend and something new emerges.
On a few occasions, the results of their collaboration are clearly invigorating. The album’s lush, dreamy atmosphere never fully dissipates, but halfway through, they decide to inject a jungle beat on the title track, and Roxanne’s voice manages to serenely float atop, not clatter against, the unruly percussion. It’s a pure rush of energy that’s stacked between two of the more cerebral and isolating tracks, ‘The Veil I’ and ‘The Veil II’, which seem to evoke the rift between something like an internally satisfying workflow and the image projected outward, the latter closing that gap. Earlier, on the enchanting ‘Sword’, they both abstract and verbalize a space that “Everyone passes through/ And down/ Falling in deeper blue/ You me you,” Piñeyro’s lulling, knife-sharp, mutating rhythms forcing Roxanne’s vocals to stretch and pitch-shift in all these different directions – through and down, in and ’round – but in pursuit of the same liminality.
There’s a care with which the duo immerses us into this world, sketching outside the lines with no need to define them. This is the longest DJ Python has worked on a project (interestingly, the opposite is true for Roxanne), and though his collaboration with Ela Minus on last year’s ♡ EP was an endearing portrait of intimacy as a means of escaping isolation, it’s rewarding to hear him delve into the different shades of it across a longer stretch of time, where the boundaries become murky and irrelevant. He steps out of his comfort zone, too, singing for the first time on ‘III’, the insecurity in his voice matching that of his mumbled words, while Roxanne’s refrain serves less as a gorgeous counterpart than a reminder to lean, like plants in a dark corner, toward the light. The song turns a traditional call-and-response into something more elusive, like two people crawling out of a similar void rather than facing each other in conversation, separate yet closely aligned.
Natural Wonder Beauty Concept was “something Ana saw in the universe,” according to press materials, and the project has a strange way of embracing paradox as part of the whole deal. “Moving fast and feeling slow/ I like it when I’m not in control,” Roxanne sings over warm, becalming synths on ‘Driving’, sounding not otherworldly but precisely, drowsily of this word. The preceding ‘Young Adult Fiction’ is enveloping in an ominous and vaguely threatening kind of way; the fact that it never totally veers off or unveils the target of its frustration only makes it more impactful. The album barely offers something you can more than grasp at, but the final two tracks cohere in woozy, distinctly melancholy ground. ‘World Freehand Circle Drawing’, like some of Roxanne’s best work, is a pop song diffused down to its emotional core: “The words you said to me/ Sung like a melody/ And I’ll never get on right/ Never move on.” It’s falling back into nothingness, where the record began, only farther. Looking at the beauty they’ve dug up there, though, you can’t help but keep wondering.