320 kbps, LAME-encoded
The life of the solo electronic artist is equal parts privilege and loneliness. You hurtle across the sky to spend a few hours in a dark club, behind the decks or on stage at the microphone. A brief grasp at transcendence, then the lights are on. Afterwards, you chat with friends you made last month, last year, or an hour ago. Back on the train, the plane. A couple weeks of this, then home. Repeat. It was against this backdrop that Ana Roxanne and DJ Python (Brian Piñeyro) struck up a singular friendship and collaboration, culminating in the shared musical language of their new project, Natural Wonder Beauty Concept.
Brian and Ana met in New York City in the winter of 2020. They’d respectively put out critically acclaimed albums but due to extenuating global circumstances, the real-world implications of those records were yet to be seen. Ana’s debut LP, Because of a Flower, released in fall 2020, trades in both ethereality and directness, stretching timeless pop and R&B forms into shimmering ambient magic. When the Bay Area-born, Mills-trained artist sings, on record or live, time slows down and we enter a languorous yet ecstatic present. The second album from Queens-based deep reggaeton innovator DJ Python, Mas Amable, also subverts easy temporality. Released in spring 2020, Mas Amable floats in liminal space—not quite a dance record, a downtempo record, nor an ambient record—unfurling at a wistful pace, naturally suited for a strange period when each day felt the same yet wildly different.
Well-loved albums aside, no one was playing shows, and a general listlessness and disconnection prevailed. Roxanne had recently moved to New York, and while the pair had previously interacted online and expressed admiration with each others’ work, they were now able to meet in person for the first time. A quiet understanding developed between the two artists on their initial hangs – they drove around the outskirts of NYC, listening to Telegram by Björk, HTRK, Portishead, all manner of melancholy acoustic indie songs. They pulled over in Filipino neighborhoods to eat. Periods of volubility were punctuated by silence, laughter interspersed with wide-eyed pondering. For Brian and Ana, studio experimentation was the instinctive extension of a friendship finding its feet.
The duo’s preternatural communication was present from the start. In early, open-ended sessions at Gary’s Electric Studio in Greenpoint, they arrived on a moody, novel sound encompassing trip-hop, synth-pop, brittle IDM drums, and samples of classical music. Piñeyro threw out ideas at a breakneck pace. Ana impacted the sound with subtle, monumental chord shapes and textures, eventually singing over strange and beautiful beats. “There was lots of time to make music during the first year we worked on the project,” they remember. “The winter in New York felt quite vacuous, so we spent a lot of time reflecting on feeling too much and feeling nothing at all.”
Then, after a heady start on a prospective album, the world reopened. Roxanne and Piñeyro parted ways for most of 2021. Ana embarked upon her first headlining tours across Europe, North America, and Australia, quietly commanding large rooms. Python was a fixture in the sleepless European electronic club circuit. Ana moved away from NYC and back to the Bay Area. Alone again, they experienced the exhilaration and fatigue of the road. Their lives, and the project, were in flux.
After a smattering of sessions on the rare occasions they found themselves in the same city, Brian and Ana converged on Kranky label manager Brian Foote’s home studio in Los Angeles in the summer of 2022. The songs were taking shape. Dreamy, densely layered drum programming and atmosphere, redolent of Seefeel and Boards Of Canada, washed against jungle and oddball ambient landscapes. They listened to tracks-in-progress while driving through the hills at night, lights flickering out in the expanse. The writing process was entirely collaborative. Ana sang, Brian sang. They dashed off lyrics together, reflecting an increasingly shared mental state. “You me you / falling in deeper blue / running through a circle that surrounds you / mango jelly flowers all around you.”
Later that fall, the duo traveled back to Brooklyn for a last round of sessions with engineer and producer Al Carlson (Oneohtrix Point Never, Jessica Pratt). Their longtime friend CZ Wang (Parquet Courts, Huerco S.) mixed and finalized the songs in early 2023, and then a name for the project materialized. Natural Wonder Beauty Concept was “something Ana saw in the universe.” The self-titled album does not resemble the previous work of either artist – Ana’s celebrated ~~~ EP and album; Piñeyro’s various releases as DJ Python and DJ Wey or his recent EP with Ela Minus. Instead, it’s a sui generis work built block by block over two years. It’s the longest DJ Python has ever worked on a record, and the shortest period of time Ana has ever dedicated to a project.
Early on in Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, we hear Python singing for the first time, over a woozy, Actress-influenced beat. He’s a portrait of alienation. “Isn’t it strange that I kind of feel nothing at all,” he muses. Ana responds to Python’s call: “Wouldn’t you say that I’m a person… giving you the time…” By the song’s conclusion, Roxanne’s vocals are an enveloping force over a lilting street bass. “The project gave us a creative license of freedom,” the pair say. “It was an opportunity to try anything out, whatever we happened to be feeling or influenced by.” Python and Ana are both known for bittersweet, contemplative electronic music that feels like a companion in quiet times. With their new project, the two artists have found their natural, if unexpected, counterparts. Natural Wonder Beauty Concept is the sound of two brilliant artists learning to be alone, together.