The last time we heard from Salvador Navarrete, he was in a dark place. An electronic producer who gravitates towards deconstructed club music that stuns and seduces, the 29-year-old artist was best known for the spine-chilling beats he contributed to dance music provocateurs like Shygirl and Dorian Electra, as well as co-founding the underground music collective NUXXE. But on 2020’s Salvador, his debut full-length album as Sega Bodega, Navarette sang directly about subjects like alcoholism and mental health, meditating on what it means to lack “a basic understanding of just how to love.”
A year later, Romeo moves towards the light. The new songs still resonate on an emotional level, with Navarette describing the fear of loneliness and lingering feelings of inadequacy. Despite the vulnerability in its lyrics, Romeo feels immediate and succinct. Nearly every song has a bass drop or twisting industrial beat fit for a crowded warehouse: This is intoxicating, club-driven, dance music with the chameleonic shifts of hyperpop.
On opener “Effeminacy,” Navarette’s vocals arrive in a deadpan that sounds almost taunting: “You don’t own effeminacy, do you?” he asks. “What does effeminacy mean to you?” A warble of incoherent vocals interlocks with a blown-out, gasping beatbox accompaniment; later, soft humming synths hover over a delicate harp melody. The glitched beats on “Angel on My Shoulder” convey a gap between reality and afterlife, while the interpolation of drum’n’bass captures the euphoria of finding a devotion to something larger than yourself. These contrasting elements introduce the complicated moods of Romeo: hard and soft, agile and chunky, aggressive and delicate, corporeal and cosmic.
The lyrics are similarly mult-dimensional, incorporating a loose narrative about a character named Luci, whom Navarette describes as his “mythical girlfriend made entirely of light.” He plays with religious themes to emphasize love’s grand and mysterious capacities, states of emotion that can feel like their own higher power. “Heaven is a place you belong,” he sings on “Only Seeing God When I Come,” as delicate synth coos blossom into a UK garage beat, matching the tension of sensuality and insecurity in the lyrics. Later, he gets help from guest vocalists Charlotte Gainsbourg and Arca to further celebrate love’s thrall with the noir disco of “Naturopathe” and the “Wild Thoughts”-inspired “Cicada,” respectively.
While Romeo is filled with the most tactile production of Sega Bodega’s career—ambient organ hums and percussion that shudders like a cicada’s wings—the most understated moments are also the most affecting. On “Um Um,” Navarette grieves the late producer SOPHIE, sounding bereft, with no spiritual guidance to make sense of the tragedy: “So empty without your words, without your grace/Even God would tell us that this is just not okay.” In “I Need Nothing From You,” co-written with Blood Orange collaborator and experimental R&B artist Bea1991, Navarette introduces a poignant sparseness that feels like new territory. “Isn’t that everything we wanted/Just to feel alive,” he sings. At first, there’s a quiver of vulnerability to his voice. Soon, he’s accompanied by a choir of his own layered vocals and a halo of clapping hands. This quiet revelation proves that Navarette doesn’t need to rely on his typical whirling experimental sounds to summon the divine.
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