Café Tacvba - El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco

El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco, Café Tacvba
Universal Music Latino, Mexico
Rating: 77
by Claire Frisbie

It had been a while. Five years have passed since Sino was released. There have been side projects, other bands, social and political causes to champion, a documentary, a book, breakup rumors, 20th anniversary festivities, extensive touring, life. And now: El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco (The Object Formerly Known as a Record), Café Tacvba’s seventh studio album.

El Objeto did not take five years to make, and it shows. The songs came together early this year, and in a rather brilliant marketing move (but somewhat ineffective creative technique), were recorded in front of live audiences in Buenos Aires, Santiago, DF, and LA. Dozens of lucky fans and friends sat in on the sessions, while the rest of us followed along on Twitter, piecing together song titles and wondering what the next chapter of Café Tacvba would sound like, anticipation swelling.

And now we know: Café Tacvba five years later sounds a lot like Café Tacvba 15 years ago. Whether this is a good or bad thing is entirely subjective. Many of the songs feel familiar, but a tad less catchy, less raw. The band has returned to the pre-Cuatro Caminos four-core-members-and-a-drum-machine lineup, but instead of the quirky storytelling and earnest experimentation of Cafeta songs of yore, we have introspection and wisdom, nature and spirituality, overall self-reflection. And, alas, minimal innovation. Thirty-nine minutes with 10 tracks mostly written by Meme and Joselo, El Objeto requires some time and a bit of patience. Disclaimer: initial listens might prove unsatisfying, but somewhere around the tenth or eleventh time through, the "object" really starts to grow on you, though the objective might never be clear. It's worth the commitment.

So much of the buzz around El Objeto was tied to the recording process, the different locations, the live audience. The decision to record the entire thing in front of an audience with little preparation was bold and risky, though not unfounded. Café Tacvba’s live shows are one of the most intense, insane, gratifying communal experiences out there, so why not attempt to channel this energy, this connection and rapport with your audience, into a recorded album? But the final product reveals nothing of these intimate itinerant sessions. Not a single song is taken in its entirety from a given recording. Elements from all four recordings were instead cut and pasted to create the tracks we hear now. I’m not pining for another live album, but a bit more spontaneity, some added energy or edginess might have been nice.

That being said, the production (from Tacvba homeboys Gustavo Santaolalla and Anibal Kerpel) is excellent, and El Objeto has some truly beautiful songs. “Tan Mal” makes optimal use of the rhythm machine and Rubén’s vocal range, ebbing from soft whispers to increasingly grating falsetto, intimate and delicate, then frustrated, yet controlled. “Zopilotes” is gorgeous in its mystic simplicity. “Andamios” is classic Cafeta at their best: an upbeat track with layered beats, inquisitive, metaphorical (architectural!) lyrics, and slightly imperfect harmonies. But you almost wonder if you haven’t heard it before, maybe on Re, or perhaps Cuatro Caminos.

The most musical variation and experimentation can be found in the middle of El Objeto. The earthy “Espuma” features finger harps and other pre-Columbian instruments, but teeters dangerously close to world music/songs your mom might love. The repetitive “Olita de Altamar” has an undeniable Andean tinge, drawing from Peruvian chicha and huayno music. And then comes “Aprovéchate,” the true standout of El Objeto. A love song sung by Meme, it feels almost Argentine or Chilean in its guitar-driven rock sound and tone, but is undeniably Cafeta when it comes to the chorus. This isn’t “Eres” Meme—his voice is deeper, more forthright. The lyrics are dark, sexy, submissive. And it’s wonderful: “ahora eres tú la agresora / desquítate conmigo ahora / me puedes usar, me puedes amar / te aprovecharás de mí...”

But “Aprovéchate” almost feels out of place on the album, which brings us to what may be the main fault of our “object”: an overall lack of cohesion. El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco is a collection of ten different songs, not a cohesive album. Café Tacvba is so revered for their continuous and relevant reinvention, and each of their past albums has had a definitive theme or feel, while managing to maintain a sound that is distinctly Tacvba. But El Objeto lacks a strong identity, though one could argue that this is precisely the point: the record as we once knew it is, after all, obsolete.