Arts & Crafts, México
by Enrique Coyotzi
With exceptional talent, determination, and passion for creating music that transmits vivid imagery and sensations through finely crafted melodies and precisely chosen words, Torreblanca has rapidly become one of the most imaginative bands in Mexico, delivering highly complex pop music combined with confrontational structures that incorporate a great palette of musical influences like swing, jazz, and alternative rock. Ever since last year’s stupendous Defensa EP, there has been great anticipation surrounding their first proper LP. After craving for months since ferocious first single “Lobo” was released, Torreblanca’s first full-length, Bella Época, is a captivating work crafted by a five-piece of distinguished musicians that, under the direction of visionary leader Juan Manuel Torreblanca, have created a record whose compositions, with a certain level of obscurity and irony, remind us of past eras that appear to be distant, comfy, and sometimes scarily violent.
Blissful opener “Las Horas” is the perfect example of how connected the band is now. The song starts with Torreblanca’s soft hypnotic piano playing that gets more dynamic, while Andrea Balency softly captivates with her accordion entrance. Alejandro Balderas intensely erupts with saxophone energy, then Carlos Zavala and Jerson Vázquez, with bass and drums, both smoothly adapt. In the first seconds of this song we appreciate a top-notch quintet that have found harmony and the virtue of sounding like a solid group where each of its members contribute and stand out. While Torreblanca is the author, the one who sculpts the backbone of these songs, it’s evident how the band members have gotten to know each other and have contributed more directly in aspects of arrangement, execution, and development of the pieces, never losing the essence of the original sketches. Under the assistance of Café Tacvba’s Quique Rangel, the group finally sounds like a complete ensemble, as every single instrument employed in the mix shimmers. While Rangel is not as bold a producer as his bandmate Meme, utilizing a more conservative and grainy, not so risky production, this kind of retro conservative approach works with the theme of the album, which also recalls vintage appreciation based on the record’s artwork: old photographs and warm nostalgia through cursive lyrics on the booklet (written by Torreblanca’s grandmother), conducting us to momentums that feel surprisingly like home.
Torreblanca has one of the most divisive voices, and many people I know will reject his voice almost immediately just for how unconventional it is. Truth is, in the great tradition of unique vocalists like Björk, Rubén Albarrán, or Tom Waits, Torreblanca belongs to that group of edgy, one-of-a-kind voices that may be be so uncommon, so different, audiences will dismiss it without allowing many chances to decipher its real beauty and the intense emotions he proportions throughout, establishing himself as a daring singer in the current indie panorama. The vocalist also possesses a fascinating capacity of painting different characters in each of his tracks, as well as adopting their personalities through the striking vocal interpretation and versatility he gives to every number. He also has a facility of creating situations that are kind of cryptic (“Hueco” and “Lola en el Sillón”). Some of the themes are completely relatable for almost any public (“Si” and “Roma”), still, the words employed invite the listener to personally interpret the meaning of the message and create hypothesis with the richness of the writings. “Dejé de Ser Yo” is a tale of a gentleman that loses his reason after meeting a courtesan. It’s impressive how Torreblanca picturesquely delineates characters, such as the woman with a “cinturita de reloj de arena” – a rich employment of language that sharply draws detailed contexts about lasciviousness and desire.
On the other hand, more straightforward songs don’t get too complicated and simply hook with the universality of their message, like in “Roma,” colored by delicious brass sections – easily the quintet’s most joyous tune, one that you’d long to dedicate at one time in your life. “Lodo” is a bitter realization about getting old while still living in a puberty mindset, with the track's choruses resembling Café Tacvba's golden age. “Otra Decepción” surpasses the demo version with its cathartic declaration of “¡no voy a dar lugar a otra decepción!” And, though the strong presence of flute after the first chorus is missed, Balency’s accordion is a fine replacement. For a record titled Bella Época, whose title may or may not be ironically related to Mexico’s current violent landscape, “JB” is a completely depressing, low-key conclusion that flirts with PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love era. To me, it is the voice of the omnipresent nature manifested by vulnerable areas, hinting at the destructive power that’s inherent in them. Featuring an engrossing collection of inventive songs, including multiple highlights, Bella Época is a wonderful achievement that’s not precisely groundbreaking, yet it’s a mesmerizingly composed LP that exudes delightful quality and provides extraordinary touching feelings throughout its assorted stories from beginning to end, condensing Torreblanca as an atypical band in matters of unusual confection, obtaining bewildering results. Despite minor production flaws, Bella Época is a record that reflects its concept ambitiously, offers unconventional creations, and manifests the loving labor that went into it.