The soundtrack to Frontier Life (Accretions Records), a documentary about Tijuana directed by Hans Fjellestad, is an unofficial sequel to the Nortec Collective‘s 2001 album, Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 1. The Sessions collection made many folk’s top-10 lists that year with its assortment of the city’s digital-dance acts, including Fussible, Terrestre and Hiperboreal. Frontier Life crosses the border by mixing Nortec acts with those of San Diego’s Trummerflora Collective. In many ways, it’s a better record than Tijuana Sessions: darker, deeper, never remotely frivolous. The act Panoptica, which was downright house-y on Sessions, is decisively downbeat — make that downtrodden — here, on a song titled “Aguasnegras en Dub.” To say the track is stripped down understates how much was left behind. The track is hard and slow, a heavy downbeat that leaves behind an opening trill in favor of concerted, sullen, punch-in-the-gut beats. By the end the music has splintered into a lonely echo chamber. And the Panoptica track’s length, at close to seven minutes, gives the act (a pseudonym for Roberto Mendoza) a lot of space in which to make those musical transitions.
Discar’s “Iofobia,” the album’s opening song, fulfills the desire for spaghetti-Western drama. And “Com Com,” by Las Cajas del Ritmo, brings a border-party feel to the kind of ascetic pointillism we’ve come to expect from Japanese aesthetes like Ryoji Ikeda and minimal-house stars like Plastikman. Director Fjellestad provides some beautiful ambient background music with his “Phone Damage,” a tenuously held together array of found sounds and held tones. The same could be said of “Ensemble Circuits,” a slightly more invasive bit of minimalism credited to Point Loma. Not that you can’t dance to all of Frontier Life, but even the most rhythmically straightforward tracks, like Clorofila’s “El Animal,” have a sense of purpose that keeps them from becoming lounge fodder.