Maximum Minimus: BOAN’s Mentiras Bridges Opposite Ends of Electronic Music

by Nick Hanover

BOAN Mentiras Holodeck

Some critic I follow recently said that “minimalist” electronic music is dead. Putting aside the fact that that seems to be a relatively common assessment,  my first thought was that the remark was truthful in some ways but how much stock you put in that truthfulness comes down to determining what minimalism even is to you. If you’re defining it by the amount of “white space” left open in a mix, then 2015 is a very different time from a decade ago, when glacial IDM was still a thing, or five years ago, when Minimal Wave was that new (old) hotness. Personally, I take a different view, embracing the maximal minimalism of outfits like BOAN, who filter punk’s repetition minded minimalism as well as its distressed sonics on their debut Mentirascreating a hybrid of principles we’re led to believe are directly opposed– Mentiras is minimal arrangements of minimal chords with minimal vocal intrusion set on top of maximum noise for maximum impact.

It makes sense that José Cota and Mariana Saldaña would bring their post-Medio Mutante project to Holodeck, a label that straddles that minimalism vs. maximalism divide harder than arguably any other organization in electronic music (plus, you know, José’s ssleeperhold already calls the label home). But it manages to make for an interesting contrast as well, since BOAN’s sound is frequently at odds with Holodeck’s 21st Century John Carpenter aesthetic. Unlike the bulk of Holodeck’s catalog (and Cota’s ssleeperhold work), Mentiras has a cheerful playfulness that adds another unexpected ingredient into an already paradoxical mix, making it probably the closest you’ll ever get to a Holodeck pop punk album. So yes, Mentiras might be an album with a bare bones, vaguely creepy black and white cover and it might be the work of two of the leading lights of neu-Minimal Wave but it’s also an album that features a nearly 11 minute long theme song of sorts for BOAN (“BOAN Acid”) where the signature sound is a bright, escalating rave synth.

BOAN are eager to embrace juxtapositions like that in their sound, which pays off especially well in moments like “Babylon,” where a twinkling synth chord sequence juts against some rugged analog bass, Saldaña’s vocals more rhythmic than melodic. “Babylon” sets a template of heavy low end and fragile leads, the percussive elements seemingly poised for fracture– handclaps falling down stairs, hi-hat sounds fading in and out of the mix as pads fly into the midrange. That gets more combative in “Freak Snake” as the synth chords get sharper, rushing at airy synth bass, Saldaña striking aggressive vocal poses. Structurally, both songs are explosively simple, differing level of intensity subbing in for melody changes or alterations.

When BOAN gets more “classical” in its approach, it’s still mutated. The album ends with its title track, an alternate dimension New Romantic number built around plaintive vocal pads and an arpeggiated bassline, Saldaña given more room than normal to flex vocal muscle. Rather than craft a discernible melody, she utilizes this space in a reflective manner, pushing back at the intensity of what came before, going darker but also lighter in weight, staying at the level of a stage whisper. When the synths make an abrupt key change, it builds not to a climax or a new hook but eventually to a drop, the instruments stripped away except for the beat and a mysterious dissonance. That, in turn, leads to a different minimalism, the beat turning jagged as the bass returns. The approach isn’t too different from the European Minimal Wave tracks Medio Mutante initially appeared alongside, a hat tip to a past that also illuminates how much has truly changed.

That serves as a commentary of sorts on why that glacial minimalism seems to be disappearing. Medio Mutante and their peers emerged as counterprogramming for electronic bombast, embracing the rigorous, limited nature of early drum machines and synths to make music that put groove and tone first. But when minimalism went mainstream, when you could hear those techniques in everything from Diplo’s work for Usher on “Climax” or the accidental chart topping explosion of trap, it wasn’t so revolutionary before. Now BOAN is breaking more new ground, merging sounds and philosophies that are put at odds with one another, proving that they don’t necessarily need to be.

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover