The last time we heard from Salvador Navarrete he was in a dark place. An electronic producer who gravitates to deconstructed club music that stuns and seduces, the 29-year-old was best known for the chilling beats he contributed to dance music provocateurs like Shygirl and Dorian Electra, as well as for co-founding the underground collective of music NUXXE. But in the 2020s Salvador, her first full album as a Sega Bodega, Navarette sang directly on topics like alcoholism and mental health, pondering what it means to lack “a basic understanding of how to love.”
One year later, Romeo walks towards the light. The new songs still resonate emotionally, with Navarette describing fear of loneliness and lingering feelings of inadequacy. Despite the vulnerability of his words, Romeo feels immediate and succinct. Almost every song has a dropping bass or a twisted industrial beat worthy of a crowded warehouse: this is intoxicating, club-oriented dance music with the chameleonic changes of hyperpop.
During the opening “Effeminacy”, Navarette’s voice arrives in deadpan that sounds almost like a mockery: “You don’t have effeminacy, do you? ” he asks. “What does effemicity mean to you? A chirp of incoherent voices interlock with a gasping and panting beatbox accompaniment; later, soft synth buzzes fly over a delicate harp melody. Glitchy beats on “Angel on My Shoulder” reflect a gap between reality and the afterlife, while drum’n’bass tween captures the euphoria of finding devotion to something bigger than yourself . These contrasting elements introduce the complicated moods of Romeo: hard and soft, agile and stocky, aggressive and delicate, bodily and cosmic.
The lyrics are also multidimensional, incorporating a loose retelling of a character named Luci, whom Navarette describes as his “mythical girlfriend made entirely of light.” He plays with religious themes to emphasize the awe-inspiring and mysterious capacities of love, states of emotion that can resemble their own higher power. “Heaven is a place you belong to,” he sings on “Only Seeing God When I Come”, as delicate synth cooing blossoms into a British garage beat, matching the tension of sensuality and insecurity in words. Later, he enlisted the help of guest singers Charlotte Gainsbourg and Arca to further celebrate the slavery of love with the black disco of “Naturopath” and “Cicada” inspired by “Wild Thoughts”.
While Romeo is filled with the most tactile production of Sega Bodega’s career – ambient organ buzzes and percussion that quiver like the wings of a cicada – the quietest moments are also the most moving. On “Um Um”, Navarette mourns the late producer SOPHIE, seemingly destitute, without any spiritual guidance to make sense of the tragedy: “So empty without your words, without your grace / Even God would tell us it just isn’t not good. “In ‘I Need Nothing From You,’ co-written with Blood Orange collaborator and experimental R&B artist Bea1991, Navarette introduces a poignant rarity that feels like new territory.” Isn’t that all we wanted / Just feel alive, “he sings. At first there is a quiver of vulnerability in his voice. Soon he is accompanied by a chorus of his own layered voices and a halo of clapping hands. This understated revelation proves that Navarette does not need to rely on her typical swirling experimental sounds to invoke the divine.
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