Boomkat Product Review:
Ariel Zetina's debut album reconciles her background as a theater writer, veteran DJ and genre-curving producer, setting clacking club rhythms against an imagined horizon that highlights the depth of her experience as a trans woman of color.
In 19th century German theater, a "cyclorama" is a curved screen or curtain that sits on the back wall behind the stage and is used to create the illusion of depth - often representing the sky. Ariel Zetina cleverly uses the word to represent the scope of her debut album, while simultaneously referencing her background in theater writing and production. Musically, the record is steeped in her experience as a DJ, and is as literate, deep and dancefloor friendly as you'd expect from a resident at Chicago's legendary Smart Bar. Zetina was born in Belize City and raised in Jacksonville, Florida before heading to the Windy City, and brings all these cultures and experiences to "Cyclorama", filtering unexpected motion into sensual dancefloor flexes.
'Have You Ever' is an early highlight, featuring a vocal performance from Zetina's dear friend Cae Monāe, who mutters "have you ever been with a girl like me before?", preempting a psychedelic washing machine beat that's as vigorously suggestive as the lyrics. It's music that lives and breathes on the dancefloor, from the sweaty, warehouse-prepped kick to the anxious heel clicks that scream out to like minds across the community. Zetina's genius is in encasing her activist messages and reminders of solidarity in tracks that don't just fit into the dance, they ignite it. 'Slab of Meat' addresses interpersonal frustrations thru a robotic half-rapped vocal from Zetina herself, 'Gemstone' reminds trans women to take their time with the process, and 'Tropical Depression' is a deconstruction of clinical depression that references the storms and hurricanes that blighted her hometown.
If you're sick of empty, apolitical dance records that sound like a rough collection of sketches and ideas rather than a coherent thought, "Cyclorama" should shake you out of that funk. Zetina manages to prove beyond reproach that there's still a way to add narrative, drama and emotion into music that's not shy about its peak time motivations. There's joy, there's pain, there's spectacle - what more is there?