Thursday, March 31, 2011
Lycanthropy has been a recurring topic in arts for ages; contemporary popular music isn’t an exception in that matter. Many musicians have approximated the well-known myth of the werewolf and wrote songs about it, whether it’s Michael Hurley’s folky cult favorite “Werewolf”, La Unión’s rock bar anthem “Lobo Hombre en París” or Shakira’s italo-disco hit “She Wolf”, a great number of artists over the time have shared with the world their view over this immortal legend through diverse stories. Torreblanca is the most recent act to be inspired by this figure in “Lobo”, first single from their upcoming release Bella Época, the follower to their much lauded impressive Defensa EP. Instantly appealing, featuring a stellar execution by the 5-piece band and a fascinating vocal performance by Juan Manuel Torreblanca, “Lobo” surely will raise expectations to the roof about Torrreblanca’s soon to be released new material.
It is very probable now onwards Torreblanca will be recognized like a full ensemble rather than simply a band led by Juan Manuel under his last name; this doesn’t mean they hadn’t proven this already in Defensa EP, yet there’s plenty of rich dynamism in the instruments used in “Lobo” where you can distinguish indubitably the contribution of every member in this project at their best; check out that immediately grabbing saxophone menacing opening, Andrea Balency’s dominion of accordion, the last blissful thirty seconds where the whole band double pace. Still Juan Manuel steals the show with his vocal delivery; he sounds agitated, even kinda sexy narrating his tale about new found freedom by looking into the moon to metamorphose during nights, converting this transformation exercise in his way out of daily social convention practices like religion and politics.
Today is the 16th anniversary of the death of the undisputed queen of Tejano music--Selena. Even though her short career came and went years before Club Fonograma existed, virtually every artist we cover owes some sort of debt to her legacy. She was the first to seamlessly integrate urban music into the Latin pop dichotomy (even if this in turn brought us the Kumbia Kings and their white tracksuits), the first Mexican-American (key focus on the American part) artist to infiltrate the general pop conscience since Richie Valens (who of course met a similar tragic end), and single-handedly revived the bustier industry (OK, I'm making that last thing up BUT IT COULD TOTALLY BE TRUE).
Mainly though, she was an exceptionally talented performer, and her death is still an important moment in the evolution of Spanish-language music. If you would like to personally honor her legacy, we request that all the guys lower their pants 3-inches, and ladies raise yours 3-inches in turn for the entire day. Share your favorite Selena memories (song, moment, quince dance) in the comments. Now if anyone needs me, I'm going to blast Amor Prohibido in my office until I get fired. Record is a top 5 pop album of the 1990's. In any language.
CUU Desde El Espacio just put out one of its most interesting releases to date: the self-titled debut EP of dreamy-pop enthusiast Jonathan Hernandez, better known as ‘El Tan.’ This is a project that’s barely growing into its senses, but as his song “Los Venceremos” shows, there’s enough confidence from Hernandez to showcase his bricolage. First, we’re happy to finally find a straight-down optimistic song, and that by itself is a standout among this year’s fatalistic bunch. Working under a sunny panorama (a lo Miami Horror, Club Comfort and TV Gamma), this piece has dexterity in its radiant synths and knowledgeable lyrical chops. This song talks about a revolution without never revealing what’s on stake, or who are we supposed to defeat; but rather than a plothole, it serves an open invitation for a generational reform.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
2011 is becoming a very interesting year for sophomore records. Many breakthrough bands are making a comeback after delivering knockout debuts, and it's exciting to see how their body of work will be collected into that always challenging (and full of expectations) second record. After delivering one of the best indie hits in years (and a stellar first album), Pedropiedra is ready to overcome the "Inteligencia Dormida" ghost with the release of his new album Cripta y Vida. "Vacaciones en el más allá" is the album's leading single and it's as freaky and mind-twisting as its video (helmed by Vicente Subercaseaux). This is a sort of Mediterranean pop song that literally takes Pedropiedra's 'cantautor' skills to the graveyard (and boy do they insert life into that place). Yet another song for the end of the world, or at least, of momentary escapism.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
If you’re not following Gente Que Viene A Mi Casa you probably should. It’s a Tumblr-based corner from Brazil we love and respect. It comes from the same people who run the great Si No Puedo Bailar (now a netlabel). While we’re highly preoccupied with aesthetics and usually prefer progressive (and aggressive) songs, we’re often moved by their curation of laidback Iberoamerican songs. They recently published a song by up-and-coming Argentine folk band Pequeña Orquesta de Trovadores, and I’m having one of those weeks were I keep humming it without realizing it. The boy-meets-girl vocal formation can rarely go wrong, but when you’re telling a story with a great sense of harmony and sing-along gamut, you can step outside the norm and achieve something as infectious as “Caramelos de Limón.” Their self-titled debut is available for free download for the exchange of an email address via Bandcamp.
A mayor influence of 60’s rock can be found in Dávila 666’s garage rock banger and destacado-tagged Tan Bajo, and just like the revivalist spirit of their tunes, this new video for their breezy, hella addictive “Esa Nena Nunca Regresó” recreates the aesthetic of the sixties in a very faithful way: through a blue filter we see the band having a riot along many blonde lookalike girls with Brigitte Bardot hairdos; the retro atmosphere is very effective, it resembles what could be a beach pool party scene in a Blake Edwards film. There’s a femme brunette that stands among the other chicks, she sensually dances in front of badass front man Sir Charles who violently shakes her until she collapses, and then a ritual takes place which involves covering the apparently diseased chick with a blanket, rubbing her body surrounded by candles with flowers. When she’s rising from the dead things go from blue to purple and as her newly born identity is revealed, a macabre grin is drawn in her new partners while they welcome the blonde newcomer and keep on dancing.
By Enrique Coyotzi
The short story of La Bien Querida (artistic name of Ana Fernández-Villalverde) in the indie pop landscape has been one of the most divisive in years among music lovers and certain publications. Her overhyped-yet-spectacular Romancero gained her international recognition, with an almost unanimous critical approval; she quickly picked the eye of Latin American press and became a darling among critics and colleagues (fellow compatriots Los Planetas invited her to guest in two songs of their last album Una Ópera Egipcia, while Julieta Venegas recluted her to open two of her shows in Mexico), earning prestigious recognitions like Best New Album and Revelation Artist awards at Spain’s Premios de la Música Independiente of 2010. Despite all this great success, La Bien Querida has managed to become a polarizing persona in the scene ever since, raising doubts about the value of her contribution into Spanish contemporary music field, creating a sort of love/hate relationship towards her between many listeners.
Almost three years later after she exploded into the pop scene, the songstress originally from Bilbao has returned with her sophomore effort Fiesta, arguably, a significant step-forward from her 2009 debut. Fernández-Villalverde could easily be cataloged as a singer-songwriter, and while her songwriter abilities have definitely improved, her skills as a singer remain pretty much the same. She also has focused on a more constructed embodiment of songs that almost work as a whole, as opposed to Romancero, which seems like three different sections (or EPs) joined to function as an album –it was effective but ultimately felt forced. For a record titled Fiesta, the celebration ironically is not to be found in its lyrics whose themes range from mournful loss, bitter remorse or profound loneliness. The real festivity comes with the sunny sound that inhabits most of the songs; this is La Bien Querida we’ve come to known and love, the flamenco influences haven’t gone anywhere, but as the Ku Klux Klan like character informs in the "Hoy" video, the styles that color this release are much more varied, making it a fan pleaser as well as an opportunity for detractors to give her music another chance.
Plenty of potential singles are found in Fiesta that could transform unbelievers: the irresistible rumba-flavored “Queridos Tamarindos”, Belle and Sebastian-esque twee pop oriented “La Muralla China” or the stunningly catchy “Me Quedo Por Aquí” (although the definite entry point is the spooky lead single “Hoy”). While all these mentioned tracks could appeal effectively to a mainstream audience, La Bien Querida prefers to keep her indie chanteuse profile intact. Although there are plenty of pleasing, unforgettable passages in the record, there are also some hard to swallow moments especially towards the ending with some of the slower songs; it’s nice having back “Monte de Piedad” from her much loved maqueta, but its appearance here is almost party-poopery. The same goes with “Monumentos en la Luna”, a misplaced ballad in an album that possesses better interesting offers.
If we were to put La Bien Querida's spectrum on a world stage, we would find her profile represented in other contemporary singers. There’s certain parallelism between M.I.A. and La Bien Querida’s releases story, at least up to their second record. Both artists generated Internet hype with the first taste of their then upcoming first albums (M.I.A. with Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1, La Bien Querida with her maqueta), gained international acclaim with their debuts and dispelled myths about being frauds with their sophomores; and while Fiesta is not the groundbreaking monster that Kala was, it is the piece that has reaffirmed Ana Fernández-Villalverde as a committed artist who’s willing to explore multiple paths in her music, continuing with the revival of the romantic Spanish song in a unique kind of way.
There probably isn’t a Mexican band that sounds as nostalgic and cheerful as Niña. A handful of thoughts come to mind whenever they put out a new song; how they’re a pop machine of ear-snagging tunes, how they manage to turn any anthemic topic into an anthem, and how everything leads us to the realization of Niña as one of those rare cult-bands that will be remembered for both, their songs and the generational bridge they’ve built into us. Their new single “Banzai” is the kind of generational monolith that encodes itself into a pop song. More than an easy-to-groove pessimistic song, “Banzai” is the emancipation of internal conflict: “Aqui no existen ganadores, todos vamos al mismo lugar.” This is the first cut from their forthcoming EP Cool Como Fresco o Como Yo?, and it’s available for free download HERE. And since it's so appropriate here, let's just say Banzai!-Banzai!-Banzai! to Niña.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Tomas Preuss & Jessica Romo recorded a wonderful set of hand-held camera clips for La Vitrola, Chile's own Blogotheque-inspired glossy project. The band was captured playing the acoustic incarnations of the standout tracks from their fragile (yet exceptional) debut La Orquesta Oculta. Our favorite clip from the session is the breathtaking framing of "Sueños Muy Largos", a track we described as a "hazy dreamscape", and how it is the one track on the album that rejects the album's fixation with realism. The clip is wonderfully shot and very risky (I must confess I fear heights, and so do 32% of the world's population). Step by step, they collect themselves and sing their hearts out; as their album title suggests, there might be only two of them, but they sure sound like a full orchestra.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Lefse Records, Venezuela
By Carlos Reyes
Constructed in the urban stretch of Caracas (Venezuela), Algodón Egipcio’s opera prima brings an artist’s eye to the hardscrabble role of music as the modern language syntax. La Luncha Constante (or the falls & triumphs of everyday life) is the subtropical and elliptical first solo album by Ezequiel Bertho ("Cheky"), who has crafted a garden of sounds comprised, encoded, and constituted by the force of individual reason. The human language is the rationale by which linguists romanticize about art, but the artists themselves thrive for readable formalism; the search for the aesthetic, the form, and the medium. The composition in this magnificent 10-piece record is of personal quest, but also of expansive WILD continuum.
Like the well-packaged titles of his songs, Algodon Egipcio’s shrewdness for craftsmanship is of inner expression and experience, but also attentively in dialogue with its era. In dialogue, but not in tune; Cheky’s platforms neither practice nor reject vocation, - they’re just ‘flowy.’ All these conditions allow for such a song like “La Transformación” to be read as a piece about the alteration of data, genetics, your virtual 'Second Life' character, or a full metamorphosis (and how sadly, there is no 'back button'). The cultural epochs in La Lucha Constante are allocated to a time frame; instead, we get a comprehension of its installment through the negotiation of rhythms that are presented to us. It’s as if Cheky’s infamous Afro was the epicenter for sylvan ideas and actions. The execution of such ideas - and how they come to action through the music- is more suffocating than nurturing, but trust me, for a visionary fascinated by The Smashing Pumpkins, Akron/Family & Destiny’s Child, the experience's outcomes are phenomenal.
Working with barely any instrumentation but a few chords and a lot of waves, we could fool you and describe this record as programmable mesh of language and technological composition, but that would be like reducing an elk’s horns to just its primitive defensive purposes. A garden of sounds? The afro as a music village? Elk’s horns? Yes, I might be pushing my music illusions to the limit, but when you’re as stimulated by a set of songs as I am in this case, there’s nothing more honest to do but to organize those illusions into all-senses diplomacy. When the accelerated opening heartbeats of “El Dia Previo” show up, another scale of water drops keeps the upcoming chords and melody on track… setting up the conditions for the first verbal narrative in the album. This is the structural form I’m referring to, acknowledging the intended form & the work of an auteur with your wildest approximation (Yes, I even have theories of why he’s missing a “LAS” on the album’s all-definite articulos grammar).
My review of the album might be as scattered as other critic’s giving it the ‘I don’t understand Spanish’ warning, but fortunately, this pop diviner gets his act together just fine. You might need to fully invest yourself in the text & sound ambiance, but once you’ve penetrated it, let’s just say you’ll be shoegazing these songs as suspiciously as you rocked to Big Boi’s “Shutterbugg” last year. While Cheky’s structure approach is ultra personal, the song’s lyricism is of universal emotion (without a drop of sentimentalism). The rooting but all-consuming landscape in “El Ingenio Humano” is like the last strike for a relationship, the folksy and resourceful “El Sonido Ensordecedor” shouts the surfacing of a new era, and “Los Parpados Caidos” is a sublime culmination/realization of the human strength. La Lucha Constante is touching, heroic, & disorienting, where even the cloudy tracks are triumphant. Cheky’s dislocating treatment of the medium as both, mechanism & text, sum up to a radiant slice of selective nature. La Luncha Constante is 2011’s wildflower, also, one of the year’s best albums.
In 2006 Monterrey’s Quiero Club made their first single “No Coke” into an anthem, it’s 2011, and well, we would like to think we’ve finally found its counterpart (in brand & sound). We recently came across the stunning track called “No Me Gusta La Pepsi”, and it’s so viscerally archaic, we think it’s time for the Pepsi vs. Coke test challenge to make a comeback (of course, you should know both songs aren't strictly about fountain drinks). The band responsible for reviving the social collision & substance altering discussion is Lenguas Largas, a five-piece band from Tucson, Arizona. Yes, from Arizona out of all places (as you might know, Club Fonograma is mainly based in Phoenix). Timing at just two minutes long, this song employs minimal post-punk sequencing, and extracts some body fluids to escort your senses back to your analog TV memories. Lenguas Largas are releasing their first LP this month via Recess Records. "Y por otro lado me encontrado la coca... ya no me gusta la pepsi."
Friday, March 25, 2011
What do you do when it’s the end of the world and you might be the only survivor? Get down with yourself, of course! That’s what Alex Anwandter and his three costars do in the video for “Casa Latina.” Whether it’s a literal end-of-days, or just the end of a really long day (as seems to be the case for the working gal in this video), sometimes you are your best companion. Or at least your best dance partner. Anwandter has some of the flyest dance moves on the planet, which we’ve already seen in his video for “Cabros” and most recently in his guest appearance in Adrianigual’s “Me Gusta La Noche.” Dude also brings some serious sexyface this time around to rival even the most studied pupils of Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie. Between the West Side Story-esque snaps and the Rainbow Fish shirt, you won’t know whether to expect a Sharks vs. Jets dance-off or a glitter scale-gifting montage. Instead, the video continues in the dystopian aesthetic of “Cabros” and embodies solitude’s simultaneous pain and freedom in the stark landscape of a forgotten city. And the hats that the women don at the end seem to be some sort of symbol of the chosen few to continue in the post-apocalypse world, in which case, I would like to be chosen, please because that is some awesome headgear.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
(Episodio No.2), Alexico
Belafonte Melodías, Mexico
by Pierre Lestruhaut
An adjective we’ve used quite often to describe Alexico is “interesting”. Because without still entering into the inevitable subjectivity of judging his qualities as a musician, there’s no denying he’s a very interesting character. The guy’s already built himself an enfant-terrible reputation, particularly for his idiosyncratic approach towards uncommon subjects of interest such as religion, blood and corpses in both his lyrics and the jaw-dropping video of the irresistible pop tune “Mis Amigos Y Yo Te Amamos”. Added to the fact that he’s also part of two other CF approved acts, the abrasively danceable Selma Oxor and the abrasively frenetical White Ninja, though his solo work falls more under the line of electronic production exercises.
Although, whereas most electronic musicians would rather focus in finding a particular palette of sounds or persistent thematic through which they can properly develop what could be called their own personal aesthetic, four years ago this guy from Monterrey seemed way more interested in being consistently inconsistent in his display of sounds and ideas. His debut album Dios Es Lo Máximo had him easily jumping from drone obsessive to dance floor pop enthusiast, from glitchy experimentation to musique concrète efforts, which kind of felt like a weird attempt to densify all experimental electronic music ever made in a 40 minute album. Fast forward to 2011, and the first thing that comes to mind while listening to the new Alexico record Acosador de Media Noche (Episodio No. 2) is an evident decision to shorten his sonic palette, valuing consistency over previous thick experimentation this time. It’s still something we wouldn’t qualify as particularly accessible, but if you make it past its half-IDM half-glitch introduction, you’ll be treated to some heavily pounding beats, a continuous deluge of catchy synth lines and some pretty weird lyrics sung in a dance-punk style, elements very reminiscent of the DFA catalog.
“Gordo Grande Y Marica” with only its title already seems to suggests that Alexico shares an ethos fitting with the ironic self-mockery of James Murphy, while lines like “¿Qué es lo que te ofrece un precoz después de 5 minutos? / Quiero intentar escuchar por qué no puedo follar” along with others like the repetition of “Tú quieres eyaculación, yo quiero menstruación” in “A Mí No Me Dieron El Don” could very well fall under that similar approach but oriented towards twisted sexual addiction, or they could also simply be dismissed as nonsensical repetition from a really eccentric artist. Overall the album works best when observed as a an enjoyable dance-punk trip, simply appreciating small details like the great “Na na na....” melody in “Nombre del Perro”, or the shift from the gritty and frenzy screaming to the docile synth soundscape closure in “La Sombra”. Because trying to understand and share Alexico’s worldview and intentions is something very few would probably claim to be easy to appreciate. With this guy most things are just really paper thin, even polarizing, though eventually quite "interesting."
According to Juan Son, the first part of the song is like escaping from a city by jumping on a gull’s back (like in The Rescuers), and the second half is a sort of response to JLO’s “Jenny From The Block.” As random as that description might sound, it’s actually pretty appropriate. The call-and-response inner chorus “Oh Yeah!, Oh Si!” is like a cheering crowd for the inner spirit, and the whole “Don’t Call me Mijo… call me Papito (from the Block)" take the song straight to the alleys of Los Angeles. Also collaborating on the song are Kelley Deal (from Breeders), Brian Thorm & Ed Macanthee.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
By Carlos Reyes
Analyzing a band’s profile can be a difficult chore sometimes, especially when you’re confronted with what could be the most lauded band of your generation. Everyone loves a success story, and they’ve earned such respect through the years. Zoé’s current status as the Mexican rock import band is understandable; we however, can’t help but to suggest such attribute is quite inflated. But before feeding into the band’s inevitable backlash, let’s put some things in perspective.
Like many people out there, a couple of years ago (during CF’s first months) I used to endorse the band’s triumphs with eyes closed. Well, I was a teenager back then, and as convenient as it may sound, I can only say I grew out of the Zoé bandwagon once I started to listen to more music. Claiming to be ‘out of the cave’ might seem like an extreme assertion, but that’s the best way I can fundament my change of judgment. MTV Unplugged is the ideal opportunity to mediate Zoé’s hyperbole with its actual merits. In this album, they find themselves among Latin-Rock royalty with guest performers Adrian Dargelos (Babasonicos) and the infamous Enrique Bunbury. Both numbers are appealing but forgettable, it’s the presence of Hello Seahorse!’s LoBlondo who saves the day and keeps things within the concept of the unplugged as an event.
They’re already an amphitheater band, Café Tacvba sees them as their most “obvious” successors, and there are several urban tribes ticketed to their name. But when it comes to the actual transcendence of the band, they come short from the idolization. As our very own Jean-Stephane Beriot once said, “Zoé is half as good as people make it up to be,” and if we’re looking for a measurement, that would be it. We can say is a good, skillful band with some great songs (“No Me Destruyas” is amazing), but far, far away from the true arsenal new great bands from Mexico (Hello Seahorse!, Piyama Party, Bam Bam).
Musica de Fondo is a recollection of their hits reworked into the folksy sound of the MTV Unplugged brand. Like all the previous Latin acts to be inducted into the format, Zoé expands its instrumental spectrum, sometimes refining the track like they do in “Sombras” and “Ultimos Dias”, and sometimes missing the mark completely (“Poli” & “Via Lactea”). As profound as many of the songs are, Zoé isn’t the most charming band in the world; something previous performers have had in abundance (Julieta, Shakira, and even Alejandro Sanz). I won’t go much in detail, but the one time I was able to catch the band live in concert, let’s just say that was like the time George Lopez met Erik Estrada (google it). Personality is rarely an aspect that concerns me, except under this kind of intimate conditions. At the end, Zoé’s chest of songs is actually pretty impressive, and these songs aren’t background music whatsoever, they’re simply lacking the warmth of the occasion, or the TV special.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Blanca Méndez: For someone who is such a big fan of yours, I don’t really know much about you outside of your music. So let me start with a basic question: What experiences led you to start creating music and why do you keep doing it?
Gepe: I’ve made music since I was so little that I can’t remember the motive. It became serious about five years ago, and it wasn’t until very recently that I considered myself a musician.
BM: What changed that finally made you say that you’re a musician?
G: When it became my way of earning a living is when the change happened. Now I live because of and from the music.
BM: Before that, were you working outside of music?
G: No, only music. I am also a designer because I studied graphic design in college. But when I was in college, I started making a lot of music, and after I graduated, I kept making lots of music and I started going on tour and working solely on music. SometimesI still do design, though. And I also make music for movies.
BM: Very cool. What movies have you contributed music to?
G: I recorded a Leonard Cohen cover of “Hallelujah” for Sugar.
BM: How do these projects come about?
G: People call me, usually the directors. Like for Sugar, Lynn Fainchtein called me to record the Leonard Cohen cover. She knew about me through Julieta Venegas, who had passed my music along to her.
BM: How do you decide what projects to go forward with? Do you read a script?
G: Mostly I talk with the directors to get a sense of what the film is about. Sometimes I do read the script, and then make a song.
BM: Do you enjoy making music with such a specific goal andset guidelines?
G: I really like to make music not using my name and background. I love not being me. I enjoy when people give me direction and tell me what they need. I liketo put myself at the service of others and to not be Gepe. It’s a break from being me. And I love playing with other people in other bands. I play the drums with Pedropiedra, and I only follow his rules.
BM: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. I know that you’ve worked with Pedro and Javiera Mena and a lot of other musicians in Chile. How does this way of making music differ from your solo work?
G: In Chile, we have a very close community of musicians, like Pedropiedra, Javiera Mena, Denver, Astro…they make very good music, very mature. And all of these people work with each other. I play the drums with Pedro and with Javiera, Javiera plays keyboards with me, Pedro plays guitar with me, and I play with Alex from Odisea. We are making an album together. The people who are making indie music in Chile are all very close. We’re all friends. We hang out a lot together. My girlfriend used to date another musician that’s part of our little community, so it’s like that. That close.
G: I think it might be a generational thing. Around the year 2000 this group of musicians that I’ve been talking about started making music. What’s happening now, despite all of us sharing spaces, sharing friends, sharing girlfriends, is that we are all working on very personal projects. We all make very distinct music, each project has its own life, its own world, but at the same time there are similar qualities and all of the music is connected in some way.
BM: You mentioned that you’re working with Alex Anwandter on an album. How is that going?
G: We both have very personal projects and working together is having to cede certain things. In doing that we got to know each other more. I had never worked with someone else on lyrics and neither had Alex, and working together that closely, we’ve become even better friends. I think when you work with a certain level of trust is when work comes out better, and that kind of trust you get from friends. I’ve always worked with my friends. And this album is one that neither of us could have made on our own. It’s at the exact midpoint between the two of us, and it’s been such a wonderful process.
BM: And you can definitely tell when there’s a close bond between musicians who collaborate.
G: It’s like Animal Collective, the thing that I most love about them is the synergy between them. You can tell that they’re good friends, and there’s something special that emanates from that. Also, one of my favorite Chilean bands in the 90s, Tobias Alcayota, who were like my Beatles, had this same kind of energy. And that’s always stayed with me and influenced the way that I make music.
BM: How has your own style of making music changed over the years?
G: One of the things I like best about music and musicians is how what they do, the way in which they make the music, the way in which they dress, the attitude that they take on, changes over time. I love that the work gets enriched with time and doesn’t crystallize at any particular moment. The music that I make has evolved because what I do isnever closed. It continues to transform. What I want to do is always ahead. Like Animal Collective, what I like about them is that everything they do is a work in progress.
BM: What are you working on now, and what are you thinking about for the future?
G: Right now the album with Alex is the first priority. I’m also working on videos for Audiovision, and I have some gigs in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. I don’t know, just making songs and keep playing. To keep playing is the most important thing.
BM: What videos are you working on?
G: The video for “Alfabeto” and “12 Minerales.”
BM: Awesome! “12 Minerales” is my favorite. And the videofor “Por La Ventana” is pretty great. It looks like it was a lot of fun to make.
G: It really was!
BM: And the song is fantastic. I love the yos in it and how it inserts some humor. How did you decide to inject a little hip hop into the song?
G: I was set on including the yos somewhere, so if it hadn’t been that song it would have been another. But I think it works best in “Por La Ventana.” That song and video came about very spontaneously. I love having a good time when I work. I don’t like directing, I like letting things happen on their own.
BM: That video is very much a group experience, and I feel that your music is often about shared experiences or that a song is in itself meant to be a shared experience. When you write a song do you have in mind the kind of experience it’s going to create for people?
G: Definitely. I like for the themes of the music to be as general as possible. I’ve tried to simplify my music as much as I can for it be as general and as simple and as raw as possible, the most direct in my language. Like “12 Minerales” was exactly what I wanted to say in the most direct way that I could. The general a lot of times feels like it’s nothing and so many things at once.
BM: I think that has to a lot do with your voice, which to me is on the surface so simple and straightforward, but at the same time carries in it a lot of wisdom. A lot of your earlier music was driven by your vocals, but your last album used a lot more instrumentation. How did you decide to go that route and how important is it still to you for vocals to drive a song?
G: I’m very influenced by traditional Chilean music and that music is played with one instrument and one voice. Usually it’s the melody of the voice that makes the song and the instrument is a much less important accompaniment. John Jacob Niles did something very similar in the States, and that influenced me a lot. But with time I started listening to people like Miles Davis and with albums like Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain became more interested in more involved instrumentals and more complex arrangements. And I think I’m going to keep going in this style of making music.
BM: Do you prefer making music in this way now?
G: What’s most important to me is for a song to work with only vocals and one instrument. Then I begin to build on that. If I feel like a song has a lot missing when I play it with just one instrument, then I don’t go forward with it.
BM: Do you remember what the first song you ever wrote was?
G: Yes, it was “Namas.”
BM: How did it come about?
G: I wrote it for a girlfriend, exactly what the song says. It’s not really a love song, it’s just talking to another human. More than writing about a relationship, it’s just something that I needed to say. In fact, it’s something that I never said to her in person.
BM: A lot of people I know really love “No te mueras tanto,” and I guess what I want to know about that song is what’s so funny?
G: What I mean by “no te mueras tanto” is don’t forget about yourself and take care of yourself. In this case I also mean “no te desesperes.” And if you do, it’s kind of funny, “muy idiota.”
BM: Why did you write that chorus in English?
G: That’s just how it happened. Since I listen to so much music in English, sometimes that’s just what comes to mind when I write. That line was the first one that I wrote, and I built everything off of that. I didn’t change anything about it. It just came out how it came out.
BM: Do you do that often? Just write songs without changing things?
G: No, that ‘s something I used to do. Now I change everything.
BM: Are you more critical of yourself?
G: Definitely. It’s like I have a lot less respect for myself and I change things over and over. The lyrics for me are always the hardest and I end up agonizing over them. Like right now I have about five songs that I’ve been trying to write lyrics for for a long time. And, like I said, I try to write as generally as possible. Not really saying anything to anybody, but at the same time speaking to everybody. It’s not important for me to say anything about myself, but I still impart something personal because it’s what I know. Sometimes I write songs with other songs in mind. Like Brian Wilson’s “Surf’s Up” helped me write “Esgrima” and “Estilo Internacional.” That song for me is paradigmatic.
BM: What do you like so much about that song?
G: The magic of the lyrics is so simple. The “columnated ruins domino” line is so beautiful to me. To me that song is perfect.
BM: I agree. The beauty of that song lies in its simplicity. Is that kind of beautiful simplicity what you try to achieve with your songs?
G: I love writing about simple things, things that won’t escape through your fingers. I do that because that’s what pop is about. The songs that I like, like Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” talk about simple things. I like doing that, writing about simple things, but giving them importance.
BM: You also mentioned earlier that you’re inspired by traditional Chilean music, which you can definitely hear listening to your songs. But also for me, your songs often sound the way I would imagine Chile to look like. Is creating a landscape with your music ever something that you do consciously?
G: I think more than creating a landscape my songs embody the Chilean people. I’ve spent all of my life in the same city, most of it in the same neighborhood and I write about what I know. And what I know is all very normal. Most Chileans are like me. We’re introverted, but we still talk a lot. We can talk a lot without saying anything. We have a certain timidity that can also be humorous. I think Chileans in that sense are similar to Mexicans. In the simplicity and the joy and the not having one ounce of European in them, and I think you can hear that in my songs. I adore my country and my people and it’s important to me to convey that in my music.
BM: Which one of your songs would you say exemplifies what you’ve just talked about?
G: I think “Alfabeto” in the way of not saying anything. The music that I like never tells a story. It’s always little bits of ideas and scenes and images, but never a story from beginning to end. And I think Chileans are like this, we never tell an entire story.
About the song itself, there's probably not too much to add, plenty had already been said about Fakuta’s ability to arm and disarm the song’s structure while singing about it when it was featured last year, she just seems to have stripped it down to its core elements this time. But when listened conjointly with the video, Fakuta seems to engage a lot more in the purpose of portraying the fate of the recurring tale of teenage betrayal and disbelief, allowing us to appreciate her music through a dramatic lens rather than a study of musical form. And of course, her always captivating Kate Bush-like vocal melodies manage to accentuate her qualities as a restrained story-teller.
Blanca Méndez: You guys just played Festival Nrmal, right? How’d it go?
Franco Valenciano: it was crazy, lots of people.
Mercedes Oller: Mexicans are fucking crazy. They made a mosh pit.
FV: But it was awesome crazy.
MO: Yeah, totally awesome crazy. We love Mexican crowds.
BM: Was that your first time in Monterrey?
MO: Yes, it was our first time in Mexico as a band.
FV: Actually, our first time outside Costa Rica as a band. It’s very exciting.
BM: And you have a few dates elsewhere in the U.S. after this?
MO: On the east coast. We’re going to New York and Philly. Should be interesting.
BM: I know this is your first tour. Where are you most excited to play?
In unison: Everywhere!
FV: It’s like going to a playground for us. We’ve never been outside our home, and it’s like staying at your friend’s house for the night. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and you’re excited about everything.
BM: It’s great that you’re getting a chance to take your music outside of Costa Rica. What’s the music scene like there?
MO: There is no scene.
FV: We have answered that question many times, and I think we’ve answered it wrong. There’s no audience, but the bands in Costa Rica are awesome. There’s a movement and a creative process in every band that’s insane. People should take notice of Costa Rica.
BM: What Costa Rican artists should people be listening to?
FV: The Great Wilderness, Niño Koi…there are lots of bands, and they’re all really good.
MO: Also, Zopilot, which is Franco’s other band.
BM: Would you say there’s a community of musicians?
MO: We’re all friends, so, yes, in that sense there is a tight community.
FV: It’s a really big movement in our country because it’s always been the same thing musically, but now bands are doing things differently. Playing important festivals and going to Europe, that’s a big deal for us. I hope we can open doors to Latin American artists, and in particular Costa Rican artists because I know for a fact that in Costa Rica there are some great, great bands. Costa Rica is a great country in every way, musically and artistically.
BM: What about your country do you think is so special and influences what you do and what other bands are doing?
FV: Everything in Costa Rica is really special. Our country is really different because we have lots of nature, no army. We have different things on our minds that make us create music differently.
BM: I know it’s still early in the tour, but anything crazy happen yet?
FV: Mostly just people making mosh pits and getting naked.
BM: So, pretty standard stuff.
MO: And there are tons of weird people in Austin.
BM: Austin is kind of weird people mecca. The crowd just now seemed really into your set, though.
MO: We’ve gotten a really reception so far.
BM: That’s great. I think all of Cry Out Loud works really well live because it has such a great energy. What was the process like putting that album together?
MO: On that album we were discovering our sound. Now, I think we’ve nailed it. We know where to go and what we want to do. That album was more experimentation. We really like it, but we like our new songs way better.
FV: We didn’t really have an approach, we were just doing what we like to do. We were just going with whatever happened. It came from our hearts, and it was nothing pretentious about it.
MO: We’ve grown up as a band, so songs are coming out darker now, yet more upbeat.
BM: That’s an interesting contrast. Can you explain that a little bit?
MO: Like, a darker overall sound in terms of the music, but more upbeat rhythmically.
FV: We’re writing lots and lots of songs, keeping some and throwing some away. We’re just trying to do something different, something that we like.
BM: A lot of people have been comparing you to bands like Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls. How do feel about that?
MO: We love them. It’s a total compliment.
FV: They’re much better than us.
MO: Vivian Girls are, like, the best band in the world. We really admire them, but I think we’re different. Maybe it’s because we’re a three-piece that people make the comparison, but I don’t think we sound similar.
BM: You played one song in Spanish during your set. Are you writing more in Spanish now?
MO: No, actually. We made that song in Spanish because it just came out that way. Like, if I knew German or he knew French, we might write songs in those languages. We don’t care about which language we write in. When it comes, it comes.
FV: Language is just a tool - a tool and a barrier. Whether we write in English or Spanish, it’s not politically motivated or anything. They’re just words.
BM: Are there certain themes that you like to write about?
MO: We just write things about everyday, normal stuff, like our relationships, other people’s relationships. In my case, I just start to imagine different scenarios. I put myself in different situations to write songs.
BM: So, it’s more of a creative writing process than a strictly personal one?
MO: Yeah, I like being able to make things up as I go and to tell stories, whether they are mine or someone else’s or no one’s in particular.
BM: What’s next for Las Robertas?
FV: We’re recording a new album and a new 7-inch and we’re touring in Europe. We’re especially excited about playing Primavera Sound. Really, we just want to keep on enjoying ourselves and making music that we like.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
- As pictured above, some muralists in Austin are a tad RAYCESS (really, this chale one is the most appropriate part of the building I could post).
- He was perhaps the most anticipated act at SXSW, and for the most part, James Blake really showe--ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.
- Even though his live show was pretty much aural Nyquil, I will say that Mr. Blake's re -appropriation of Justin Bieber's former haircut was pretty awesome.
- Owen Pallett was very very VERY good in concert--even when he's playing just by himself with a violin. And he also delivered the best line at SXSW when he reminded the crowd to "Never say 'faggot."
- Ximena Sariñana's boyfriend is a vegan and eats gluten-free pancakes, but she eats meat like a barbarian and YOU WILL LIKE IT!
- Next rap act I see live that overuses this fucking airhorn will be KICKED IN THEIR PANSA. Curren$y and Shabazz Palaces may thus continue to live. Das Racist can fucking die.
- Gold star award goes to Tune-Yards, oh I'm sorry--tUnE-yArDs. Amazing in concert. "Bizness" is going to drive everyone who rides in my car crazy over the next 4-6 months.
- Thao from Thao with the Get Down Stay Down #cangetit
- Davila 666 is loud as all hell and I am so angry at myself that I never caught one of their sets in full. I promise I will make it up to them one day and post a concert review immediately, provided I don't spend the next day at an otolaryngologist.
- For those disgusted by my initial posting of a half-eaten veggie torta, I present both an apology and a rebuttal:
- Well, that's it for me. Thank you to all the artists, journalists, and industry folk who helped me with various Club Fonograma-related stuff all week, thanks to Carlos Reyes for diligently answering his e-mails and TALKING SHIT ON TWITTER BEHIND MY BACK. Just kidding, I still love you. But not as much as I love you people who indulged me over the past few days and read these posts. I couldn't have done it without you. As always, my standing offer to purchase food for you on the streets of Austin continues. But please, no pulled pork for a while...
The Chilean showcase at Maggie Mae’s later that night was surprisingly good. Despite the absence of acts like Javiera Mena, Denver, and Odisea, the show was curated quite well. Fernando Milagros brought some harmonica action and invited his buddies Pedropiedra and Gepe to play with him. It’s awesome and kind of adorable how they are all friends and play in each other’s bands.
Next up was Francisca Valenzuela, who was wearing a leopard print top, which made me love her immediately. Plus she really got down with her keyboard, so total stamp of approval from me. She was followed by the Austin/Santiago-based pop rock band Intimate Stranger, who I actually didn’t hate despite my apprehensions about them. They played a solid set, nothing special and a little too long, but not awful. I didn’t hear their entire set, though, because I ran into Orlando, and we had a nice chat about his time in Austin and how it’s great that there is a decent Latin American presence. But we both agreed that it would be better if these Latin artists got to play more showcases outside of the strictly Latin ones.
Then Gepe was up and you know I had to devote my full attention to him. Dude was wearing a grandpa vest that I was dying over. Sorry if this is Gepe overload for you (there’s still an interview coming), but when you’ve waited as long as I have to see him and don’t know when you’ll be able to see him again, things get serious. He played “12 Minerales,” which is my jam and closed with a stunning performance of “Celosia.” I can die happy now.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
At the Brooklyn Vegan party, I formed a special bond with an Austin native (shout out Leanne!) over our mutual love for beets, and she invited me over for an afternoon snack (beets, of course). On our way to her house we stumbled upon a backyard party, which it turns out I also wandered into last year because I ran into my old goat friend. We also saw Taylor Hanson and had a moment because we were both pretty big Hanson fans back in the day. Go ahead and judge, but you know you love "MMMBop."
But even more awesome (and relevant to this blog) was the Billboard showcase at Prague. I finally fulfilled my years-long dream of seeing Gepe live. He, accompanied by Pedropiedra, played an incredible set. Maybe I'm getting emotional in my old age or maybe I'm just that big of a fangirl, but I got a little worked up during "Salon Nacional De Tecnologia." Though the crowd got into it, most folks weren't familiar with Gepe. I overheard a few comments about how he sounds like Peru and wanted to scream, "It's Chile, people!"
Ximena Sariñana was up next, and it was clear that she was the one everyone was there to see. The place was packed, and as soon as she started, my view was immediately obstructed by everyone's phones, many of which stayed up for the duration of her set. Note to everyone who does this: PLEASE STOP. After opening with "Mediocre," Ximena quickly got into her new songs. I particularly enjoyed "Shine Down" because it got everyone dancing. She also played one of my favorites, "Normal." Yeah-uh, commentary on traditional gender roles! After Ximena's set, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Gepe and I did a pretty great job of maintaining composure even though my inner dialogue sounded something like "OMG OMG OMG." Highlight of SXSW for sure.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Then it was time for an afternoon snack, and when I saw the sign for The Vegan Yacht it was some clouds parting, divine light shining down-type destiny. There was vegan frito pie! I know y'all are jealous.
The real highlight of the day, though, was Carla Morrison at the Naco showcase. She started with "Lagrimas," and I was kind of mad because I did not want to cry during the first song. I summoned my strength and made it through the entire set without any tears. As Andrew mentioned, there were some hardcore fans at the show. I was scared for one girl in particular who looked like she was about to pass out when she got meet Carla. But I guess that's just the power of Ms. Morrison.
Here's the first of Club Fonograma's set of SXSW interviews. I want to thank the lovely Carla Morrison and her people with getting this set up and their friendliness. Carla in particular was a bit of a marvel in person, and even though she considers some of my reviews long-winded and too negative (if there is anyone else who feels this way, the line forms around the corner behind the shady-looking drugstore), it was a pleasure to meet and talk with her.
Andrew Casillas: How does it feel to be you right now? You are in an interesting middle space: not completely obscure, and you haven’t quite broken through, but you’ve received plenty of accolades from all the right media types.
Carla Morrison: I’m excited to be here, but I don’t really think about it too much. I mean, it feels different to be living from this, and it feels good to travel and do stuff I like and wake up late and be in some places that I never really expected to be. It’s weird and it’s fun pero I don’t put too much thought into “wow, look where I’m at right now!”
AC: You’ve worked with plenty of musicians who have already been in this game for a long time, and who have achieved a wide variety of success. Have you received any advice from them that have provided some sense of enlightenment as you’ve been going these past few years?
CM: The only thing I’ve been told is not to sign with a label, but I already had done that. It was nice to know, though, because it reassured what I was thinking about and it made me feel [more comfortable] with how I was approaching everything. I think what I’ve learned about this business is more about how time passes by and not to think “oh I should have/should not have done that.” I think it’s more important to just go with the flow.
AC: You’ve obviously fluent in two languages, and come from an area of the world where you can access English and Spanish language music pretty easily; how did you really make the choice that you were going to sing in Spanish, and would you be open to singing in a different language?
CM: I think that when I was younger I used to like more music in English than in Spanish, because when you grow up in Tecate or on the border, we get a lot of influence from the U.S. I liked the lyrics more—how easy it was to say “sad” or “I love you,” and you can play with words a bit better. I also like how my voice sounds in English, but when I started experiencing different emotions because of maturity and [the subsequent] evolution of your spirit and your soul, I realized that the English language couldn’t translate that. I also picked Spanish because I’m more comfortable with it because it’s my first language, [but there’s also] the romance language aspect of it; you can say so many things you’re feeling with so many different words that [will likely] break you to pieces. You have all of this variety with castellano, and it’s more precious and more of a challenge. To me it’s not like “I’m gonna sing in English so I can have a [bigger audience].” No, that doesn’t matter to me. I hate the line of thinking of “well I’m gonna sing in English and Spanish so I can have two [sets of audiences].” Are you doing it for yourself and the comfort of your soul or are you doing it for the money? If you’re getting into this business, you kind of have to know that you’re probably gonna be poor for life but I’d rather be [financially] poor than poor of my soul. For me it was a quick decision, maybe it’s not for somebody else.
AC: Perhaps my personal favorite songs of yours are your cover songs. What’s your process for picking a song to cover? Do you just pick songs you really love and feel you can do something different with, or do you pick the song and then find a way to make them distinctive to yourself?
CM: Well, [when I’m choosing songs to cover], I choose songs that give me “emotional earthquakes.” There are songs that you like and you’ll always sing to yourself or at a concert, but there are songs in your life that you listen to and say “Wow.” Like, the lyric could have nothing to do with me but there’s something about that song that makes me go crazy inside. So the songs that make me feel that sort of emotion that I can’t feel with all other songs, those are the ones that I cover. And I try to make them mine because I feel like that’s the way it should be. Every time you cover a song, you can’t do it the same because then it’s not you. Whenever I cover a song I don’t think about it too much and say “OK I’m gonna do this and that so it sounds different.” No, I just put my soul into it, and work with my heart rather than my head. When you make music you shouldn’t think too much about it because then you fall into a pretentious trap.
CM: I’m not a person who thinks too much about the future, but I do know that I want to do my next album myself at home. I want to go back to basics. I don’t really think about the “formula” that everybody follows. “OK, I had a great CD, now I have to outdo that CD,” no I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s bullshit. I’m thinking I have some songs for a new CD and it’s pretty much back to basics, but they’re not gonna be exactly like Aprendiendo a Aprender but at the same time it’s not gonna be like Mientras..., it’s gonna be in the middle. I want it to be in the middle because that’s the way I want it, and I do what I want.