Album Review: Ela Minus – acts of rebellion

[Domino; 2020]

Ela Minus is now. There’s simply no other way to put it. Given its confrontational title, her debut album acts of rebellion isn’t, generally speaking, as overtly political as you might think. No, her focus is on something just as necessary in this fatigued, devastating year: resistance for self, as much as the collective. She revels in how easy things could be, should be, and much of her work here feels like an ode to the potential beauty lying within simplicity.

With people throughout the world more and more questioning the notion that we ought to live in the broken systems in place, Ela’s songs, as they say, “hit different” than they might have in any other year. This set of stylish techno pop songs was recorded and produced entirely on her lonesome (aside from a cameo by Helado Negro on album finale “close”), and a sense of satisfied isolation comes through in the album’s songs. They exist somewhere between the dancefloor and a dimly-lit bedroom, all aching synths and propelling drumbeats.

Yet, they also feel as if they were very consciously gifted to all of us, just when we most needed them. “megapunk” splits the difference between the personal and protest music, addressing the essential need of activism, while simultaneously acknowledging the exhausting nature and personal toll of it all. “tony” is her demand to put your phone away and enjoy being alive by going out for a walk or dancing all night long. “dominique” finds her isolated inside for an extended period, fearing she’s forgotten how to talk to people and pondering “I should probably eat something that’s not liquid.” In short, it’s the perfect 2020 album, a bit of self-care to revel deeply within as this pandemic stretches on and on, seemingly without end.

The Colombian musician largely sings in English, but she loses none of her power in her native tongue; her acerbic energy is simply one that transcends language barriers. Speaking on her music, Ela has said she often sees more beauty in small human acts than grand global movements, and acts of rebellion dwells within that sort of heartfelt intimacy, even in spite of its often prickly, clever attitude. “el cielo no es de nadie” is specifically dedicated to tiny gestures of love, and its bouncy, hazy atmosphere, all but guaranteed to get you dancing (or, at the least, seriously head-bopping), is a highlight.

Mind you, Ela’s passions may lay in the small, but her sound is anything but. From the opening seconds of the album on “N19 5NF”, you’re hit with a veritable wall of sound. At every turn acts of rebellion is deceptive. She preaches simplicity, reveling in the individual power within all of us, but the music layered and complex, full of bubbling and whirring elements behind every danceable beat.

Given her statements cherishing beauty, Ela feels akin to that standoffish badass who’s a big softie at heart. Her lyrics are often deployed like weapons on a battlefield, barbs towards the listener, the world, and herself, by turns. The ultimate moment of sarcasm comes in the album’s very first lines, comical and yet all too true of an admonishment of her – our own – generation: “We always know in the first minute or so / if something’s worth staying for,” she states in a wryly monotone vocal. With all that’s available to us, what does an artist really have to do to get us to stick around, after all? Ela finds it easy, or, at least, wants us to. “You fools try to go deeper / don’t you see how easy it should be?” she asks bluntly.

acts of rebellion has no interest in making global change or toppling governments, simply because Ela Minus knows how far beyond herself these goals are. With a world truly on fire, we often place such great burdens for change on the individual, and Ela is begging us to take a moment to slow down, to realize how much of ourselves we’re losing in a constant state of anxiety and panic. Whatever is happening around us, there is still always potential for that serene moment of human connection. We simply need to start seeking us out again. She may be staying indoors, but Ela Minus’ work just may be the proverbial push we need back outside of our cramped state of stress.