Delhotel Records, Mexico
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.