Monday, March 31, 2014

Ases Falsos - "Simetría"


Considering Juventud Americana is the best rock album made in Latin America in the past decade, their absence at this year’s (or last year’s) Vive Latino is a real shame. While we would’ve loved to see acts like BFlecha and Fuete Billete in the lineup, Ases Falsos just seems like a more reasonable act in the renowned rock-centric festival. Not to say we didn’t have any fun (see our coverage via Twitter). Perhaps the new album will turn more heads their way. Quemasucabeza’s Rodrigo Santi told us it’s a record sure to enchant a crowd like that of Vive Latino. And unlike the past record, Ases Falsos’ new album, Conducción, will be important from the get-go as it will be released in the “first division” of Quemasucabeza, joining recurring festival circuit acts like Caravana, Gepe and Pedropiedra.

Ases Falsos’ new single “Simetría” is a slow-burner of sorts. While first impressions outline a straightforward and composition, the lyrical crescendo of its chorus reveals narrative folds that are simply stirring to the heart. As Cristóbal Briceño enunciates “te amo de una forma, que destruye toda norma” one should’ve bared the idea that he wouldn’t just stop at making a lyrical statement, but that he would also follow such a romanticized line with actual musical input. As everything Briceño does, there's no room for assumption or need for understated reason. Download the single via Quemasucabeza.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fuck Her, Or The Terrorists Win - What Is Hurt?

What Is Hurt?, Fuck Her, Or The Terrorists Win
Delhotel Records, Mexico
Rating: 75
by Sam Rodgers

After two EPs, Monterrey "hipsters"/hipsters Roberto Polo and Roger Camara have finally released a full length, the cheekily titled What Is Hurt? As the band name suggests, these guys love straddling the line between seriousness and the posturing of it – a forma de ser for the eleven (plus two bonus) tracks (available at bandcamp) that either comes off as relentlessly self-conscious, or outright irreverent fun – depending on the overall pop-sensibility they've chosen. And 'choice' is perhaps the best way to describe the genesis of FHOTTW's music: whether it's the choice between singing in English or Spanish, or what genre homage they choose to add to the scrapbook, the band builds collage-like songs, the cracks of which are audible – mostly in a good way. These cracks show a band who bounce ideas of a song around: let's play with a jarring tempo change! What about Spanglish! Let's see who spots our influences in this track!

Take the one cover song on the album: 'Sueño de sombras' by Julieta Venegas, from her magnum opus, Bueninvento. Certainly not that album's most celebrated track, and yet, Polo and Camara have chosen the one track 'true' fans of Venegas would no doubt agree was that album's most bittersweet, lush, would-be single moment. Much in the same way Venegas saw Juan Gabriel's 'Siempre en mi mente' as a power ballad about inner torture of epic proportions, rather than the original's simple love letter. We digress. Their take on 'Sueño de sombras' is an ode to Venegas – not much of the original arrangement has changed – just updated for this decade: glittery synths create the dreaminess instead, and the lyrical mood fits well with the themes of the rest of the album; most notably the awkwardness of starting out in love and lust.

Opening track 'Ghosts' confronts these themes blatantly, the lyrics a retelling of a story about a girl that got away before she was anything more meaningful to the protagonist. Thankfully, there's no self-righteous mopiness: “So then I tried to find her / but never seemed to get too far / Coz when I met her, I was drunk / and thought her name was Anne.” This self-awareness saves potential cloyingness, but can sometimes come off a little pretentious – for example, later in the song, calling it “the Facebook” – although, the sentiment never feels forced. Highlight, 'Sudden Enemy', showcases the upbeat tone of the band with the album's crux emotion, frustration, perfectly – reminiscent of Swedish ex-duo The Tough Alliance's at once flippant youthfulness and pent-up posing. Similarly, FHOTTW delight in the appearance of toughness: look no further than the nod to Michael Jackson's 'Bad'-era strut on single, 'Cave'.

A manifesto of not taking themselves too seriously costs the album a cohesion a more 'serious' band would strive for. Yet at the same time, Polo and Camara invite the listener to play with them – never structuring a song outside of a pop one: these are musicians in love with all facets of music-that-has-come-before. Realising that you're part of this experimentation, makes FHOTTW much more enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

C. Tangana - "Trouble + Presidente"



Among the most exciting things in hip-hop in 2013 was seeing how established rappers started working with forward-thinking and off-kilter electronic producers. Kanye teaming up with the likes of Arca and TNGHT, Danny Brown with Rustie and Darq E Freaker (even R&B threw some curveballs in there as Kelela worked with Jam City, among others). We’ve been wondering when we would finally see a similar dream collabo like that happening in our own niche, which is why last year we were already calling for rap collective Agorazein to team up with Barcelonan maximal electronica producer Alizzz. And luckily enough it didn't take long to happen. Agorazein founding member and suave rapper C. Tangana’s new single sees him join forces precisely with Alizzz in the single’s A-side “Trouble.” The song initially flashes what the common elements between both artists are: the yacht rap piano intro and outro, the overall paradisiac sentiment of the production. But both musicians also make the most of the occasion to showcase their own qualities as well.

The first half is Alizzz’s show, finally confirming he can thrive as a hip-hop producer with a downtempo beat that steadily builds-up and sets the scene for C. Tangana to take the spotlight. The MC eventually breaks loose near the 2-minute mark, and amazingly manages to sound both piercing and laid-back, while emanating his trademark aura of effortlessness on the mic. “Trouble” comes to confirm what we were already starting to sense in Whoa!, which is precisely how much Alizzz’s tracks are on a whole other level when he decides to share the spotlight (cf. “Champagne” ft. Kongo Lacosta). B-side “Presidente” exposes C. Tangana’s more dancefloor oriented sensibilities and goes for more aggro (yet always trill) rhymes. It also and includes a remix from yet another Barcelonan producer bRUNA whose 2013 release THENCE had signs that he could also be successful collaborating with rappers. Oh and if this wasn’t awesome enough already, Alizzz also just dropped his new EP Sunshine on Mad Decent.
 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Opatov - Cuático


One of the newest releases from the cassette series of catalan label Famèlic Records is Opatov’s second EP, entitled “Cuático”, a Chilean word used to describe something rare, odd or boisterous. The catalan quartet plays a very interesting mixture of garage and pure psych-rock with a special feature: a trumpet. This live recorded cassette includes five new songs going from fast and playful surf rhythms to ambient soundscapes in which trumpet and guitar share the main roles. “Cuático” is a very good start for such a young team, we’re really hoping they are thinking about releasing an album soon.

El Mañana – Muertos

Muertos, El Mañana
Fanclub Records, Mexico
Rating: 71
by Marty Preciado

Fernando de Buen, singer-songwriter and front man of El Mañana currently based in Chicago, released Muertos, his LP debut under Fanclub Records, based in Mexico City. To fully understand and grasp the concept of Muertos it’s important to backtrack three years. In 2011, El Mañana released their debut EP under Discos Cuchillo. Back then, the EP acted as a defining hallmark to their sound: noise bathed in synths.

Muertos remains loyal to its noise but undergoes a subtle transformation, this time it’s primarily based and deeply rooted in folk music. However, there are no strings attached to the folk genre. The album breaks music paradigms with its unexpected turns. Positively speaking, it feels as if it is a long drive on a flat road and, after countless miles, it hits a sharp turn, agitating one to a different scenario.

“Para Morir” is a perfect example of the aforementioned. The song immediately starts off with vocals on an acoustic guitar. It delivers raw composition, no effects. Yet, as soon as one is comfortably becoming accustomed to harmonious vocals and to its downbeat guitar chords, the unexpected turn comes into the song. We experience a Lynch-esque eerie buildup noise of pedal effects and sliding guitar. An unexpected finale, it breaks its composition, steps outside of its aesthetic boundary. And it’s exactly this musical turn that has made Muertos a pleasant surprise.

“Lentamente,” aggressively positions itself and paves the sound for the rest of the album, serving as the musical backbone and identity for the upcoming songs. The opening track has ideal credentials; little over eight minutes bathed in open-heart and emotionally felt lyrics with noise and folk colliding with each other. It’s a mad scientist lab, experimenting sounds and creating new formulas, with jaw-dropping results.

Eight tracks, three years later, under a new label and with great ambition, El Mañana delivers an album that holds an enigmatic aura, it stays away from solemn patterns and beautifully exerts a mature identity through a wide array of meticulous composition and fine musical arrangement. Muertos is raw and honest; it’s a whisper in the dark, the remaining ray of light in the crumbling of the night.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

SXSW Entry #3: Sobrenadar, Desert, SVPER, & Univers


Text by Giovanni Guillén
Pictures by Daniela Galindo 

Thursday night/early Friday had most of the CF-approved acts literally spread out all over Sixth Street, each featured in a distinct showcase. Here were some of the highlights.

8:07pm - Sobrenadar @ Vulcan Gas Company 

As a project conceived at the height of the internet's chillwave obsession, Sobrenadar set itself apart with each release by taking a calmer approach than most of her other contemporaries. Knowing this beforehand, I was skeptical about how the live show would play out. During sound check, singer Paula García sported an alien sweatshirt , clearly aware that her role here would not be to deliver a knockout vocal performance, but instead to be true to her own brand of whispered almost subliminal bedroom pop. It worked. Songs like "Junio" and "Sommeil Paradoxal" evolved into the serene and for 30 minutes their fragile beauty helped me forget the overwhelming Sixth Street crowds I'd be dealing with all night.
























8:55pm - DESERT @ Esther's Follies

Running one block east I then made my way into Esther's Follies where Barcelona duo DESERT was already setting up. Being a cabaret bar, the stage faced a seating area which made for a slight awkward viewing experience. Then Cristina Checa and Eloi Caballé got started- slowly unleashing a mix of eerie percussion and beats that I can only compare to Blue Hawaii and the Pional remix of your dreams. If past songs like "Camins" were about looking for a way to the light, the new tracks not only celebrate its discovery, but also resolve to inhabit it. During their performance it also became clear how temporal pop forms no longer interests them, at least not live. In 20 minutes I only counted three distinct tracks, but it was enough to feel blown away. Let it be said now so that a future "I told you so" will be warranted: if Desert wasn't already on y'alls radar, that needs to change.


9:25pm - SVPER @ Palm Door on Sixth 

Skipping out of DESERT's set a few minutes early, I arrived at Palm Door (across the street...) just as SVPER was launching into new material (this was also the day "Nuevo Cisne de Piedra" dropped so I can only assume that was what was playing). While squeezing through the crowd for a closer spot, I also got the sense of just how many people must've been anticipating their performance, especially from the row of giddy faces head bobbing up front. Sergio and Luciana no doubt picked up on as these vibes when they took us back to 2011 with their still-rousing singles "La melodía del afilador" and "El final de la noche," utilizing every synth-powered decibel to transform the tiny patio into their own arena-sized show.


11:00pm - Univers @ Soho Lounge

Even with the unforeseen line-up change, Univers managed to kick off their North American tour at Soho Lounge in high spirits and high volume. Considering their innumerable shoegaze and noise-pop references, it's a mystery how this band can exude the kind of freshness they do; of course, that was hardly on my mind as the show started because I was more affected by those guitars (which I hope no one vined) that barely let up throughout the entire set. Songs included "Cavall Daurat" and "Paral-lel" while most of the set was taken from their recently released debut album L'Estat Natural. The rest of the audience i'm assuming had a similar response as each song drew in a bigger crowd, attracting everyone from goths (or maybe just punk weebawoos), drunk old people, and even had fellow compatriots SVPER and DESERT watching. Classic night.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Barrio Lindo - "Garza bruja"



If you happen to be familiar with Barrio Lindo’s (aka Agustín Rivaldo) biography, you’ve probably wondered how such a great Argentine electronic producer who’s been primarily influenced by South American folk isn’t part of ZZK Records, given what a no-brainer fit he seems to be for the pioneering label. The resemblance with ZZK ambassador Chancha Vía Circuito is of course unmistakable: the frequencies of cumbia constitute the beats and rhythms, and the sounds of the South American native tribes decorate the sonic palette. But despite not being labelmates, they’ve actually been frequent collaborators. Unlike the majority of Argentine cumbia beatmakers right now, Barrio Lindo doesn’t trade in obvious club stompers, given his music is more introspective than foot-tapping. The organic sounds are more conducive to a backwoods scenery, but the bass line is bubbly and contagious enough for a session of tribal dancing. Rivaldo’s type of electronic dance music meets Latin folklore isn’t a new or obscure trick by any means (hell, even Breaking Bad rode the digital Latin folk bandwagon last year), yet it’s rarely done with such understated complexity and mastery of rhythm. In addition to "Garza bruja," you can also hear a 10-minute snippet of Barrio Lindo’s upcoming LP Menoko to be released on beautiful purple vinyl via Berlin-based Project Mooncircle on April 4th.

Monday, March 17, 2014

SXSW Entry #2: Buscabulla, La Entrevista

by Zach Lewis

In the three years I've been attending SXSW with no badge or even a music wristband I think i've developed a good idea of which events to stay away from. Ordinarily that would most certainly include The Fader Fort, but when we found out CF's artist to watch Buscabulla would be performing on the main stage we knew we had to be there. Thankfully Club Fonograma made the guest list and we were able watch as Raquel Berrios and her band brought a potentially dead ambiente to life with a mesmerizing 30 minute set. 

We caught up with Raquel later that night at a Nacional showcase, just an hour before A.J. Davila performed, for a brief chat.

Giovanni Guillén: A lot of our writers are already calling you the breakout act of 2014- but most of us know very little about you. What's your background in music? How did you get started?

Raquel Berrios: I was first a DJ. I've been a DJ ever since I got to New York in 2008. I started DJign vinyl and I kind of inherited my dad's record collection that included salsa, calypso, folk music. It was pretty varied. I also worked in a music store Tropicalia in Furs and then got even more into psychedelic latin music.

GG: Like Caetano?

RB: Caetano, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, the whole Tropicalia movement and other Brazilian stuff. And I started sort of producing stuff at home on Garage Band, really simple things and singing over it. I've always played guitar but I had never really been musically trained and it wasn't until I met my boyfriend, Luis Alfredo Del Valle, that we actually started to take those samples and the small projects I had and actually started converting them into songs and then after that I took piano, I took sort of a crash course in music theory and started to get a little more serious about the project.

GG: I'm a really big fan of your Tumblr, you have so many visual references that I think make a great introduction to Buscabulla. Then there's also a lot of older music that you post. How much of that did you inherit from your parents and how much is from your own discovery?

RB: It's half and half. The seed was planted by my parents but when I go back and I look at 70's and 80's Argentinian music that's all out of from my own discovery. Like maybe because my dad exposed me to rock that sort of made me interested in seeing what was latin rock like in the 70's and 80's. So the seed was planted by them, but definitely the digging and exploring is another thing that's happened and I guess you do see that on the Tumblr. It's mixed in with a lot of other stuff (laughs).

GG: It's pretty well known at this point that you've been working with Dev Hynes. How much of the new songs were already ready before he stepped in? What is his role really?

RB: When we got in the studio with Dev in mid February, we pretty much had three songs in demo form. We all sat down and discussed them, and he pretty much acted as an advisor both in helping us achieve a more evolved sound and filling in missing parts. He played guitar on a lot of the tracks and added his own to them. He also helped in a lot of decision making, but he definitely let us be Buscabulla. You know, he's written songs for Sky Ferreira and produced and written for Solange, but this time around he let us be who we were, and then just sort of added a touch of who he is.

GG: Yeah, that's interesting because the role of a producer is really vague. There's people like Rick Rubin who kind of lets artists just do what they do.

RB: It's funny because we kept bringing up Rick Rubin when we first started working with Dev Hynes. Everyone thinks a producer is gonna come and put his stamp on an artist's sound, but what he was really interested from the beginning was our unique sound. He acted as a great medium with his vast musical knowledge, adding touches of his own style while letting us be who we are. I guess you'll see it once it comes out. You just have to wait and see.

by Giovanni Guillén

GG: Recalling what I heard today (at the Fader Fort)- the new songs sound kind of hazy and intense. How do you describe them to people?

RB: There's a little bit of everything. The first single that we're gonna release and already made a video for is called "Caer." I love to think of that song as a midway point between "Sono" and our "Tu loco-loco" cover, you know, between samples and actually playing live. The other songs- "Temporal" which is another song from the EP is also really sample driven. I kind of did that one on my own. The demo was done at home in one night, just sat down with it. It's definitely more experimental. Sort of based on coming from the Caribbean. "Temporal" means hurricane. Then there's "Métele" which I don't really know how to describe that one. It's definitely more soul-like and Dev put a really cool touch on that one. We haven't finished mixing it so we'll just have to see.

GG: Besides older music that you're really familiar with how closely do you follow the current scene, like what's happening in Puerto Rico?

RB: Right now there's a lot of cool stuff happening, I definitely listen to everything that people are doing. Super excited about Fuete Billete. I've sort of known these guys forever, back when they were Cienca Fixión. It's really awesome how they're evolving with this new project as well as seeing Carlitos and AJ (from Davila 666) take different musical paths with their respective projects. And just the San Juan scene in general, we played a show there in November and Luis and I came back feeling really excited by the bands there. There's another group called Fantasmes that's really awesome. I think right now it's really diverse. I can totally see the influence of the internet and how it's helped people find their niche. Years back in Puerto Rico it seemed like everybody was doing the same type of music. But now it's different. It's such a small island, it's great to see a tiny indie scene doing very different projects.

GG: You mentioned how far Fuete Billete and A.J. Davila have come, where do you want to take Buscabulla? Or where do you see it going?

RB: I think a woman I always look at as an artistic example is Juana Molina. There's just something about the scale and artistic level of the project that she's built that I love. She has been very unique and even if she's not huge, people know her. She can travel the world and do intimate shows. There's something inspiring about how she's led her musical career and how it keeps going, regardless of age or looks. I think I aspire to something similar to what she's created. I really want to make cool interesting music in Spanish, you know? I want it to be accessible but also have edge. I want it to be complex.


by Giovanni Guillén

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Video: Jennifer Lopez - "I Luh Ya Papi (ft. French Montana)"


Jennifer Lopez’s 1999 debut On the 6 celebrates its sweet 15 this summer. She's recently dropped the single “I Luh Ya Papi (ft. French Montana)” from her upcoming tenth album. In the way that “Same Girl” before it retraces the singer’s Bronx roots, “I Luh Ya Papi” is one big callback to her turn-of-the-aughts, early singing days. The clip begins with one of Lopez’s ‘homegirls’ jokingly singing “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” one of her first hits. Then, they set up the video’s premise (to make a video that objectifies men) and proceed to envision the Boogiedown Boricua rocking a jumpsuit very reminiscent of her iconic 2000 Grammys Versace dress.

The rest of “I Luh Ya Papi” takes place in mansions, on a yacht, and around lounging, ripped, speedo-clad dudes. The cut leaves no ostentatious hip-hop video (or reggaeton or urban bachata, for that matter) trope unturned. In doing so, Lopez inadvertently(?) taps into another figure from the era (and her past)—Sean Combs. “I Luh Ya Papi” is also a little reminiscent of the mid-to-late 90s Bad Boy Entertainment/Hype Williams-esque style that may well have birthed all of the misogynistic and materialistic clichés being critiqued. With “I Luh Ya Papi,” J.Lo’s proving she’s still got it—“it” being the last laugh.

Friday, March 14, 2014

SXSW Entry #1: Dënver @ The North Door

by Giovanni Guillén

My Megabus ran late Wednesday and so I wasn't in Austin until 3pm. Not a big deal unless you account for the fact that I missed Empress of at the Pitchfork day show (Ugh). It was probably this early hiccup that convinced me to take things relatively leve on my first night. Not to mention that Mujeres were also denied entry to the U.S, thus canceling all of their south by dates (Ugh). With those two acts no longer an option, the CF itinerary had only one thing left and it sure as hell wasn't División Minúscula. Though their first showcase performance was actually Tuesday, sources tell us the show was plagued by sound problems and very little time on stage. So the stakes were high for this North Door performance. Pre-show vibes were weird. Never mind being awkwardly placed in a showcase with Porter and Division Minúscula (which I guess accounted for the $15 cover charge), or how the rest of the lineup read like a list of Latin acts not on Club Fonograma's radar, the music also sucked. Random salsa and old Shakira (rockera era... So the Divisón fans wouldn't disapprove).

As 8 o clock rolled around- Dënver was onstage putting final touches on their setup, a nervous sound guy approached them and did that thing where talking through someone else seems like a better idea instead of asking himself ("are they ready?") Weon, please. Remember that scene in Selena when she calms down damn-near all of Monterrey by just smiling? That was Mariana as "Medio loca (hasta el bikini me estorba)" started playing. Not even one song in and I was already near tears. Emotional as it was, Dënver wasn't here just to make us cry- it was to make us dance.

"Medio loca" then segued into "Los adolescentes," soon the whole front row was jumping up and down, most mouthing along as well (Niñas Mal fans?).  Seeing each of them assume their stage presence, further underlined by their outfits- Milton rocking a Fara Faucet shirt, and Mariana in a jeweled top- reminded me why Dënver have the most perfect dynamic of any band right now. She filling in as the pop star, he, the nerdy composer who dissimulates a rockstar mystique behind a guitar. But through each song which also included "Olas gigantes," "Revista de gimnasia," "Lo que quieras," they would trade roles; a dorkiness from Mariana would slip or Milton would bring out his best moves. On the breakdown to "Profundidad de campo," they shared a perfect choreographed moment that displayed them as true equals. The set closed out, of course, with "En medio de una fiesta" immediately after Milton- professed his love for disco as they came down and exited. Don't know about y'all - but I straight up took that as a quiet diss to all of the dude rock that would soon follow. Which by default makes it the most punk moment of the night.

Side note: though I was still at the venue for hours after I did not catch Porter or Division Minúscula, so I'm really just talking mess.

Side side note: my night pretty much ended around midnight, after unsuccessfully trying to enter a Kelis show. I spent the rest of the night walking up congress trying to recreate Lorelle Meets the Obsolte's "These Days" video.

 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

SVPER - "Nuevo Cisne de Piedra"


The band formerly known as Pegasvs is back with a bang. Two years after releasing their incredible debut album, the Barcelonan duo just dropped the first single under their new legally approved name SVPER. Upon first impression, “Nuevo Cisne de Piedra” is classic Pegasvs: there’s the loud chorus/soft verse structure of “El Final de la Noche,” the more supporting yet always soothing voice of Luciana, and there's the unmistakable urgency of their synth lines, progressions, and digressions. While urgency remains the common thread, this new single sees them aiming for previously unseen levels of rapture, even if SVPER had never stood for half measures in any aspect. Unlike every track on Pegasvs, it actually begins with the synth riff that serves as a hook, and the percussion feels more stilted than robotic. Instead of carrying on with their “mythological box of synth crescendos,” SVPER have aimed for an enticing balls-out synthpop epic. Its sonic palette is more reminiscent of campy 80’s-style fonts, yet it mostly welcomes the same nostalgic sparkle and teenage apprehension that’s present in M83’s most poignant synth sagas. Details of a new album haven't been mentioned yet, still “Nuevo Cisne de Piedra” is an impeccable appetizer that will certainly satiate our hunger for more SVPER songs.
 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Club Fonograma Invades SXSW 2014


Club Fonograma invades SXSW. Hello readers. Yes, it's that time again where we leave our pets and laptops for a week and head to Austin (by way of the blue Megabus) for another South by Southwest. While it was tempting to sit this one out (we all know it's not the same without #PincheAndrew) and continue to hold a jaded outlook of SXSW and the whole festival season, it wouldn't be right to downplay how excited we are for some of the incredible talent visiting the lone star state (which includes Dënver, Svper [Pegasvs- do I still have to do that?], Buscabulla, Desert, and Univers). As always, we'll be doing daily showcase write-ups and interviews with plenty of pictures (courtesy of Daniela Galindo).

And just in case it needed to be said- I'm Giovanni Guillén. Some of y'all might know me from my occasional posts around the blog, or maybe you've confused my face with Tony Gallardo's on a Fonograma compilation. Really, though, the only thing I should be known for around here is repeatedly trying to look cool in front of semi-famous people and being caught with some kind of dripping frozen treat or wiping chamoy off my face (see last year's Jicaleta at Nrmal). Still, I'll do my best to carry the torch this year and represent the club.

p.s. For any festival goers who plan to hit up our scheduled showcases and want to say hi- we really like whiskey sours. And paletas de limón. <3

Monday, March 10, 2014

Carmen Sandiego - Ciudad Dormitorio

Ciudad Dormitorio, Carmen Sandiego
Independiente, Uruguay
Rating: 82
by Monika Fabian

Five years and four releases into a band’s life, it’s way more common to hear of reshuffling or downsizing than, say, expansion. And yet Carmen Sandiego did the unthinkable: it doubled in size in between 2010’s Joven Edad and Christmas Eve’s Ciudad Dormitorio. Fortunately the gamble by Flavio Lira and Leticia Skrycky to welcome longtime collaborators Matías Lens and Ezequiel Rivero into the fold paid off immediately. Ciudad Dormitorio is Carmen Sandiego’s most accomplished work to date. The outcasts, antiheroes, and daydreamers populating this ‘Bedroom Community’ evoke post-adolescent lust, ennui, and restlessness from the inside out, and the band behind this world fuses lyrics and melodies of equal emotional weight to construct solid, multi-dimensional narrative statements.

Dormitorio largely sheds the adolescent fascinations of its predecessor; only occasionally waxing juvenile. Narrators in “Generación 2002” and “Monja En La Fiesta,” for example, envision bombing their high school reunion and making their peers kneel on glass. Although the albums are touchtones of their respective life stages, Edad is like a tumblr to Dormitorio’s Moleskine. The former is a less realized version of the latter, yet both works are inextricably necessary. Dormitorio is a repository of obsessions, insecurities, fantasies, pettiness, and love poetry penned by someone more inclined to look around and ahead than back. It’s quarter-life living and anxiety circa 2014.

But it doesn’t even take delving that deep to understand, or even appreciate, Ciudad Dormitorio’s brilliance—the music is effortlessly dexterous. Carmen Sandiego has upped its musicianship with polished, full-bodied arrangements that convey newfound confidence and maturity. Lira’s reedy voice is a wonderful counterweight Skrycky’s ethereal turns. The guitar work vacillates from jagged to dreamy throughout the effort, and shades in the songs’ worlds (“Maria” and “Avalon en Larravide”) as it gives way to the smaller touches (“Mi Pierna Derecha”).

At the risk of taking its title too literally, Carmen Sandiego’s latest reminded of several surburban rock quartets. The overall catholic coherence felt Tacvba-esque. The jangly guitar hooks in “Ocupaciones y Oficios” and “Chocotoño Killer” had DNA smatterings of REM. And the retro, lo-fi feeling “Generacion 2002” and “Fiat 600” recalled the Ramones and Beach Boys. And yet that’s all to say that the Uruguayan quartet’s new work is in storied company and essentially captures something all those groups have before them. In Ciudad Dormitorio, they use a potent symbol of guarded idealism, beauty, ugliness, idyllic emptiness, nostalgia, rage, sadness, and ambivalence to reflect on all of the ordinary humanity wandering about.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Calle 13 - Multi_Viral

Multi_Viral, Calle 13
El Abismo, Puerto Rico
Rating: 39
by Pierre Lestruhaut

Respect to whom respect is due. From 2005 to 2008, at which time Calle 13 produced a nearly impeccable run of three albums, there was no touching the MC/beatmaker pairing consisting of Residente and Visitante. Residente’s flow was singular and infectious, and his rhymes were sharp and versatile enough that he could go from hilarious to provocative to downright nasty. Visitante, on the other hand, was consistently delivering beats that stood at the intersection between club madness and visionary genre transcendence. Then, with their 2010 album Entren los que quieran, the building blocks of Calle 13 started to show some cracks. As Andrew Casillas noted, Residente had "lost his fastball" and started swerving towards “ignorantly polemic” territory. Having now heard the follow-up, whether Entren los que quieran was a slight misstep in an otherwise great discography, or the testimony of a great band taking a turn for the worse, Multi_Viral is unequivocally pointing toward the latter.

A band previously well known for their infectious and stinging hooks, Multi_Viral kicks off as mostly a collection of protester rallying cries (“A brindar por el aguante”) and self-help jingles (“Respira el momento”). For a rapper whose first hit was both brain stimulating and club banging, it’s a shame to see his political diatribes being reduced to the level of megaphone speaking street protester. Artistically, it’s as relevant and thought-provoking as any song from Spaniard anti-establishment group Ska-P. Residente is finally accomplishing what he said he could do in “Ven y Críticame”: “vender un millón de copias con una letra genérica.” And beat-wise, in their own quest to transcend reggaetón they’ve somehow lost track and found themselves as an unidentifiable, unfiltering entity of disparate influences, sloppily experimenting with world music, prog-rock solos, and cheesy Hollywood-esque orchestral soundscapes.

“El Aguante” uses celtic music as a representative backdrop for a song that talks about the injustices humanity has had and continues to endure (wars, dictators, Monsanto). On paper, it looks like it might actually work, but the result is a bleak and lifeless rant that could have been written by any social sciences first year student. First single “Multi_Viral,” works over Tom Morello’s agitating hard-rock riffs and goes on a long denunciation of government, corporate and media propaganda, and disinformation. The title suggests it could have been an interesting exploration of fame and politics in the digital era, instead all we have is an MC who’s completely mistaken artistry for activism. “Los Idiotas” hits rock bottom, though, as Residente spits universal truths about idiocy and intelligence and ends up sounding like that speech your 8th grade teacher gave when trying to motivate the class to participate a little more.

Calle 13’s album introductions have always been memorably satirical, but this time they’ve recruited Eduardo Galeano to read what is no doubt a heartwarming account of humanity’s need for connection and love. It’s nice, but it also feels like they chose to start the album with what they read on their aunt’s most liked Facebook post, and, for some reason, have it read by none other than one of Latin America’s most iconic literary figures. Speaking of Latin icons, Silvio Rodríguez appears here, too, not sounding like the heart wrenching and soothing troubadour that he is, but like a robotic, cash-grabbing, click-generating gimmick. Does this mean we should be anticipating that the next move is going to be a live set next to Victor Jara’s hologram? Cha-ching!

As you probably noticed by now, there’s a terribly annoying coincidence between the themes treated in the album and those that are most commonly present in social media posts. The obvious conclusion here? Anyone could have written these songs. And I don’t mean it as a sort of “Anyone can cook” Ratatouille-like motto about how anyone can create art. I actually mean that these songs were seemingly written by someone with absolutely no talent in songwriting whatsoever. However important the issues at hand may be, it’s as exhausted and hackneyed as those same click bait think pieces about self-help, politics, and injustice that get regurgitated day in and day out. As opposed to the Cristóbal Briceño school of political songwriting, Residente shows no depth, no shading, and no sharpness in his lyrics, only the summarized detritus of what anyone with access to the internet already knows.

There’s really not much to like in Multi_Viral, except for maybe a couple of songs. “Adentro” starts as an interesting diss of gangsta rap violent poserism and, although it starts veering toward emotional human inequalities exposure, its final verse sees Residente reflecting on his own past mistakes and present weaknesses (regretting buying a Maserati, being loud-mouthed, and the decline of his sexual performance). It’s a slick verse that’s classic Residente at his most introspective and vulnerable yet. And then there’s another brief moment of flair a few tracks later in “Fuera de la Atmósfera del Cráneo.” Visitante shines with a really cool guitar-driven beat and PG-13 also takes the spotlight with a beautifully sung hook. It’s a track that feels both deliciously funky and irresistibly catchy in what ends up being the album's only truly good beat.

As a critic, I have to ask, how does one not end up looking like an insensitive asshole when panning an album whose main purpose is inducing positive change for humanity? Perhaps that’s precisely the problem. In mistaking artistry for activism, Calle 13 have reduced their scope exclusively to what words can accomplish, thus neglecting how music functions as a coalescence of words, sounds, and melodies (“Digo más con mis palabras que con tu teoría y solfeo”). Residente’s sexual metaphors and Visitante’s club trashing beats, which made up most of their first records, still sound infinitely better than anything in Multi_Viral. I’ll take a good song about pussy poppin and poppin molly over anything on this record, so yeah, maybe I am an asshole. Residente used to be an asshole too, and we liked him way better back then. He was great at rapping about the simple pleasures of life, and his best songs sounded like the kind of simple pleasure that comes to define all great popular music. If anything, Multi_Viral is Calle 13's failure at transitioning from pop stars to larger-than-life politically engaged musicians.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tigres Leones - Muerte a los Muertos


Tigres Leones present three new songs in their new EP, Muerte a los Muertos, released by Madrid label Sonido Muchacho. This is the third EP of the garage pop trio, based in Madrid and in Sevilla, after two other releases in 2011 and 2012. They published their first album Mucho Spiritu on January last year and have extensively toured Spain since they formed the band. Muerte a los Muertos sounds refreshing and playful, revealing influences from other Spanish bands such as El Niño Gusano or 90’s classics like The Pixies or Blur. The last track of this EP, “España muerde” is an instant hymn based on powerful drums, repetitive guitar riffs and a voice track that delivers lyrics telling us that “España quiere que seas feliz, que tu vida no sea tan gris.” The two other songs are as catchy and energetic and have a clearer psycho-surf taste. This EP just leaves us with plenty of appetite for whatever is to come.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Video: Luciana Tagliapietra - "Tormenta"



Chilean visionary director Bernardo Quesney has been on a roll lately, releasing one impressive clip after another. First it was for fellow countryman Pedropiedra (“Para Ti”), then for Uruguay’s current MVP band Carmen Sandiego ("Ocupaciones y Oficios"), and now he’s visualized the melodic scope of Argentine songstress, Luciana Tagliapietra. These nation-hoping ventures by Quesney are not only standouts for his pedigree, but also speak of the existent (yet often unnoticed) brotherhood and collaboration amongst the different indie scenes of the continent. “Tormenta,” is the first single off Tagliapietra’s latest record, La Luna. The clip starts outlining the singer’s silhouette against a backdrop of smoke and steam. Her breaking of the fourth wall is quickly empowered by way of neon lights. A classical, beautiful way for music to acquire visibility. Maybe a bit discrete compared to the image-packed offerings Quesney has accustomed us to, but restraint proves to be effective when visualizing Tagliapietra’s soulful voice with affection and grace.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nva Orleans - Las Caras de la Muerte

Las Caras de la Muerte, Nva Orleans
Independiente, Chile
Rating: 81
by Pierre Lestruhaut

One of threads that’s been commonly used to characterize the series of Chilean pop artists that have emerged in the new century is the idea that this is a generation that shows no musical prejudices (i.e. one that appreciates Daniela Romo as much as Rosario Bléfari) and thus has the liberty and the mindset to make music free from boundaries. Although the idea is mentioned by Alex Anwandter in an interview for Manuel Maira’s Canciones del fin del mundo, it seems like Milton Mahan, the musician more recognizable as half of Dënver, is starting to become the poster boy for what’s been this late 2000s/early 2010s crop of blog favorite unprejudiced Chilean musicians.

Although Dënver is, by popularity and output, Mahan’s main endeavour, his share of side projects have made him the sort of restless artist unafraid to venture into unknown territories. Aside from being part of retrofuturist and a little too overstuffed techno duo De Janeiros, his solo project Nva Orleans (previously Nueva Orleans) had shown signs of promise with a solid pair of singles. “Música y Discos” dropped in 2010 as a subliminal slice of self-conscious pop balladry (“Cientos de discos compactos nos habían influenciado”), and “Mediterráneo” followed it a couple of years later, as Nva Orleans developed into a project that contrasted the more immediate pleasures of Dënver for a much more profound mystique and esoteric lyricism.

Despite making music that initially strikes for grandeur, Mahan has claimed that the reference point that got him starting the Nva Orleans solo project was his admiration for the tonada, the Latin folk style of music that acquired great popularity in the 1960s when several prominent musicians from the Nueva Canción Chilena started exploring the form. In an interview for Super 45 he claimed that being a genre that mainly belonged to “women that had been abused by life,” it allowed him to dig into his “more obscure, more familiar, and more perverse side.” Las Caras de la Muerte is a record that certainly carries with it the imprint of the sorrowful troubadour, but its heartache and isolation is more textural than lyrical.

His resolution on citing the tonada as a main inspiration for creating Nva Orleans talks about a musician that’s fixated with the lyrical qualities and affections of Latin folk, yet, sonically, Mahan remains a devotee of electronic gadgetry. In refusing to go through the road of the tried and tested sounds typically associated with expressing sorrow (acoustic guitars, gushing strings), Las Caras de la Muerte occasionally finds the church-like grandeur of the micro-symphonic, modern avant-garde of contemporaries like Julia Holter. Despite Mahan showing off great skills as a lyricist, it remains a record whose narrative is better expressed through melodies rather than words, a cyclical journey around themes like family, sin, and departure that is also felt in Mahan’s arrangements.

A large part of the record is thematically linked to religion, more specifically the devil. Mahan’s own allusion to demonic forces in everyday life seem, for a record like this, just as puzzling as the second scene in Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, in which a glowing, naked CGI devil lurks around the protagonist’s home. As Mahan has already proven to be a savvy video director, it’s safe to call his solo endeavor somewhat cinematic. A song like “Jesús, María, No Sé” has the poignant symbolism that has been linked to Reygadas’ ever-present themes (sexuality, mortality, and sin), and Las Caras de la Muerte is a record that’s both gorgeous and deep, melodically intense, yet thematically broad. Like Reygadas’ films, it’s a profound reflection on innocence and sin, love and heartbreak, life and death.