Ernest Gonzales wears many hats. Middle school technology teacher. Record label owner. Husband. Father. Even his music career has more than one side. There’s Mexicans With Guns, Gonzales’s raw, throbbing, culturally influenced bass music project, and there are the songs where Gonzales takes off the Lucha Libre mask and makes music as himself, as he does on his third Friends Of Friends release, Natural Traits.
Natural Traits is not a Mexicans With Guns album. Gonzales still creates wonderfully textured beats here, but while Mexicans With Guns carried you to the south of the border, Gonzales himself is fine with just staying at home, reading a book and maybe turning on the Nintendo. The intensity is gone, and it works in his favor.
Natural Traits can be at one point a beautiful, ambient experience and then be followed up with an 8-bit excerpt that seems plucked from a Sonic The Hedgehog game. While this might sound disjointed, it never feels that way. Gonzales uses live instrumentation coupled with digital and analog tropes to create these fully realized experiences.
And that’s the beauty of Natural Traits. Yes, it works as a cohesive whole, but the real delight is how each song is like a school lesson from the world’s coolest science teacher. In “Beneath The Surface,” it’s easy to picture a camera swooping its way through underground caverns. The song oozes with the thrill of going on a journey. “The Heroic Lives Of Particles” is equally as scientific with a beat as jittery as what I imagine particles are actually like. And “The Scattered Thoughts Of Raindrops,” the best song on the album, is rain songified, as Gonzales makes you feel the individual force of each raindrop.
There are a lot of styles at work on Natural Traits, but that’s not to Gonzales’s detriment; he isn’t trying to make any unified statement on this album. It’s just Gonzales clearly showing that this, his one-time hobby, has become much more, a place to air out his many musical sides.