Hello Seahorse! - Arunima

Arunima, Hello Seahorse!
MUN/EMI, Mexico
Rating: 74
by Sam Rodgers

Mexico's Hello Seahorse! return with their fifth studio album, Arumina, a word which apparently signifies the glow of dawn. The ripple of synths that open first track "Buen Viaje" herald the sun breaking over the horizon, but one suspects the adage about a red morning being the sailor's warning might hold true for this collection of focused, defiant songs. Denise Gutiérrez (Lo Blondo) leads the band like the general of an army, loud enough to reach the nosebleed section, Hello Seahorse! are taking that exclamation mark very seriously, they want to fill stadiums. Even when Lo Blondo's lyrics are about letting go, if you're the person in question, you'll still see her face on every maxi-screen around you—you are not to forget.

For a band with such a signature sound as Lo Blondo's soprano-rock voice, it's hard to pin down what soundscape they want to inhabit. They've gone from cute, put-a-bird-on-it indie, all hand claps and melodica, to pop rock, and more recently to a much darker, experimental place, like they've decided that to be taken seriously, you must be stone-faced serious. For this reason, it's harder to warm to a Hello Seahorse! track these days, unless you happen to be in a similarly downbeat or angsty frame of mind. Listening seriously, and critically, there's much to admire about the ideas floated during the eleven tracks of Arunima. The production by Grammy-winning producer and composer Camilo Froideval is slick, giving the album a grand, symphonic sound, whilst keeping Lo Blondo's voice front and center. Case in point, "Tristes," with its woodwind, clicks, and smoky jazz club bass line, makes you visualize Lo Blondo entertaining gentlemen like Jessica Rabbit. You can almost see them mesmerized and a little frightened by the siren song. Unfortunately, "Tristes" doesn't fulfil its club lounge style promises. The general signals for the drums, and what could've been a cheeky, sexy breather becomes another stadium rocker, reminiscent of Sweet & Sour, Hot y Spicy-era Ely Guerra. While not necessarily a bad thing, it skews the band's attempts at capturing their own sound, which is driven by the phrasing and timbre of Lo Blondo's voice.

Thankfully, the tracks are scattered with her yelps and squeals and other throat-trickery, and, when paired with the right instrument (like the glockenspiel at the end of title track, or the synth opener “huh!”s of "No Es Que No Te Quiera"), it's easier to throw your rock star-gloved fist in the air. Yes, Lo Blondo, we're with you! Standout track "No Te Vayas Al Bosque" opens with whistling and choppy piano chords, the band tentatively steps in, ducks back out, then returns with horns for a memorable rollick through the forest. Strangely, lead single, "Para Mí," with its straightforward urgency, actually isolates the singer, it's cold, desperate, kinda scary. Again, a song constructed more for the mosh pit than audio intimacy.

The album fluctuates between this hot and cold, pull and push soundscape, like Lo Blondo doesn't want you to fall too much in love with her singular and beautiful instrument. It's a difficult album to listen to in one go, drowned in emotive sound which overshadows more nuanced and interesting flourishes in parts. The band turns it up to 11 too often, which may ingratiate or frustrate, depending on whether a listener is a long-term fan or not. (Or is the type to lap up Florence and The Machine.) In fact, this is what might be the problem. When the singer's voice is as big a prospect as the rest of the band, something has got to give. When both work harmoniously, though, Arunima shines golden, if off the hilt of Lo Blondo's sword.

DESERT - Camins

After just one (gorgeous) EP, Cristina Checa and Alba Blasi have officially dissolved Granit, ending things as mysteriously and suddenly as when they first arrived. The world may never hear a full-length from the Barcelona duo, but luckily vocalist Cristina remains committed to the enchanting dream pop of her former project. Joined by producer Eloi Caballe, she is now behind the group DESERT. First track, "Camins," has been described by Checa as a “way to the light” song, hinting at a kind of dark place she traversed to find inspiration. Such a scary and surreal journey is depicted in "Camins." Checa sings as if completely resigned, taking in a strange and unfamiliar terrain manifested here as ornate instrumentation. Ultimately, though, it's a voice that absorbs all fear and insecurity to create something beautiful. Hopefully, with DESERT, we'll be left with some closure with where the journey goes from here. "Camins" will soon be released as a 7" single on Glitter End records.

Video: Conector (feat. Lido Pimienta) – Una Vaca es Un Bosque


Though this second single from Aterciopelados co-member Héctor Buitrago's side project, Conector (con Héctor, get it?), was released in June this year, and the album, Conector II, was a late release from last year, we want to highlight the participation of Club Fonograma favorite, Lido Pimienta. It feels like forever ago we had new material from her, when in reality we've had the pleasure of Capullo's "A Quien Amas En Realidad Es A Mí," a short doc revealing new track "Rouletta," and fans in Toronto will soon get the chance to attend a series of concerts this colombicanadienseana muse has curated called Bridges, connecting local and international alt-Latino artists, the first of which includes her good self and Buitrago.

"Una Vaca es Un Bosque" is as trippy hippy as the title suggests, but with the layering of vocals by Pimienta and Buitrago's sonic landscaping, the song is elevated above that usual proteja la madre/I-just-noticed-how-beautiful-nature-is trope (even though this phrase is indeed sung). The reason why we love Lido Pimienta is that she tweaks melodies to be that much more interesting, even if the subject matter of a song is well worn. The video was made by Animaedro animation studio, which specialises in stop-motion effects, and it has some cool visuals to accompany the off-kilter bounce of the music, including the hummingbird-man motif of the Conector albums, and a lot of patient cows. So until the 2013 release of Pimienta's new album La Papessa, which features collaborations with Fakuta and Astro, to mention only a couple of exciting names attached, we'll return to the trail of tracks she's left us this year.

Piñata - "Llampec"

Ever since Barcelona 5-piece Piñata had a couple of tracks featured in the last editions of our Fonogramáticos series last year, we’ve been eager to see if they could translate their ability at crafting boisterous tropical punk anthems beyond the 3-minute mark. According to their Bandcamp page, the wait could be over as soon as early 2013, when Piñata will be dropping their double EP Amics/Enemics on Hao! Discos and Mama Vinylia. As a teaser from that forthcoming release, they’ve given us new track “Llampec” (Catalan for lightning if I trust my sources), another rollicking number that exceeds every other they have released, at least in terms of shouting, tempo shifting, and catchiness. No longer using the layers of lo-fi, feedback, and distortion as a hideaway for their knack at creating great melodies, “Llampec” sees Piñata take their game up a notch in terms of cleanness, despite the fact we can already envision ourselves singing many of their future tracks next to our favorite shirtless bearded, beer-drinking friends.

Las Amigas de Nadie - Sincronía

Sincronía, Las Amigas de Nadie
Mamacha Productions, Peru
Rating: 78
by Pierre Lestruhaut

On the cover of their previous record Cápsula, Las Amigas de Nadie were brandishing an image that could easily fall somewhere between Spice Girls going artsy in “Say You’ll Be There,” and kitsch kings Afrodita going futuristic. And just like its cover, the album itself was far from being sonically devoid of any eccentricities. Despite largely exhibiting cleanly executed escapist naive pop, something at which it generally succeeded fairly well (especially in uber catchy almost trip-hopesque “Doce Pasos”), the kitschiest end of it (a rap-rock number, some guest rapping in an alt rock track, and a surf rock closer about wanting to be hardcore) exuded an overall impression of careless scatteredness.

Fast forward to 2012 and lead single “Espiral,” a jazzy spy music-inspired chorus-less song with an accompanying Bergmanesque video presents a Las Amigas de Nadie very different from the ones we remembered. They were also inevitably viewed by the general opinion as something like experimental pop, for lack of a better term. While the rest of Sincronía very often simply erases the memory of the band that was making easily digestible pop last year, it also showcases how much better they’ve actually gotten at doing just that. “Cronos” is well tailored for straight-out tuneful pop music: a succession of well-placed hooks that don’t wear each other out in exhaustive repetition, but rather linearly build the anticipation for the next one to come, eventually beating “Doce Pasos” in terms of catchiness.

But the album quickly starts to evolve in unexpected directions. “Tronador” at 4:23 feels like an eternity in the midst of a 7-track, 21-minute record, aided by the fact it has so much going on in such a time frame: grunge basslines, proggy guitar jams, new-wave synths, a chart pop chorus, and the best vocals we’ve heard from the band so far. “Un Posible Final” takes what sounds like recordings for learning English and reveals their formal qualities by putting them in front of a chaotic backdrop of dissonant beats and synth lines in an odd effort at musique concrete, while “Algún Día” is as cute, innocent, and catchy as any track from La Reina Morsa could be. And finally “El Niño” sees them plunging into lo-fi Andean folk mode, in a track that’s as warm and intimate as it is cold and abstract, contrasting folk ideas against electronic ones.

In general, Sincronía works much better upon initial listens simply because of its strikingly contrasting aesthetic. Building its own narrative in such chaotic elegance, listeners will be surprised, perhaps even awed, but definitely curious enough for rediscovery. With repeated listens, though, as its surprise factor begins to fade away, and the more puzzling elements start to become more familiar, the album starts to feel rather even, and qualifies better as an immediate experience rather than a lasting one. Although it does't really have any weak tracks in it either (thus working fairly well as a collection of tunes), it also exceeds too much in contrast, thus lacking in connection, and left us wishing it would showcase some content in sacrifice of its own indulgence. It’s in the clash between the upsetting sounds and the melodies that Sincronía stands out as a truly distinguishable work.

Las Robertas - "Seconds Away"

A lot has changed for Las Robertas since the days when they were a fairly unknown band from San José that was starting to earn some buzz on the blogosphere. Now signed to a Californian indie label, the success of their debut Cry Out Loud gave them the chance to accumulate heavy touring experience around Latin America, the US, and Europe (stopping by high-caliber festivals SXSW and Primavera Sound), but also the head-scratching opportunity to open for Pearl Jam in their hometown’s biggest stage. Now that the whole lo-fi girl group revival hype that might or might have not gone in their favor a couple of years ago (actually feels like a decade ago in internet years) seems to have faded away, it seems like this finally might be their shot at deflecting the knee-jerk criticism directed at their fortuitous trendiness. Though safely holding onto the more conspicuous elements of their aesthetic (wearing their admiration for all things lo-fi, C86, and early punk on their sleeve), “Seconds Away” feels not only like an accomplished effort at downplaying their melodic charm in favor of straight-out thunderousness, but also at shedding their naiveté for some truly disconcerting songcrafting. “Seconds Away” is part of three song 7’’ Dissected Affair which should be out on Art Fag Recordings later this year, as we’ll still be on the wait for their sophomore effort.

Gepe - GP

GP, Gepe
Quemasucabeza, Chile
Rating: 88
by Enrique Coyotzi

Two years after gracing us with his instant classic Audiovisión, the creative monster that is Gepe returns with his fourth album, GP. It's immediate and friendly and finds the singer-songwriter embracing his innate compositional talents in a logical universe. Considering the approachable intentions of its predecessor, his current music could impact the mainstream (Carla Morrison as a guest singer, reggaeton and moombathon appreciation) due to the smartly crafted, yet natural venture into pop confection, where folklore and novelty comfortably coexist.

We can envision this new work as a metamorphosis of Daniel Riveros' career into possible transcontinental acclaim. Gepe has always been a cool guy with indie cred, but watching him swagging, collaborating with Pedropiedra, while awkwardly donning sunglasses in the video for lead single “En La Naturaleza (4-3-2-1-0)” unveiled a more laid back side to Gepe, both in artistic style and persona—one that doesn't sacrifice an ounce of introspection or authenticity.

As reported in an insightful interview for Super 45, Riveros admitted that, under his stage name, he wanted to "try a brand, establish it..." And he has accomplished that in GP. Generally secreting joviality, it signifies the Chilean star's most accessible creation to date, playing almost like a blueprint of his whole career. Its simplicity will conquer newcomers, while making faithful devotees fall in love all over again. Unsurprisingly, the virtuoso found equilibrium between effortless eloquence through colloquial scenarios and straight-to-the-soul sincerity, relying on rousing arrangements, sonic textures, and unique sensibility.

Pairing up for a second time with super producer Cristian Heyne, Gepe revisits the ideal vessel necessary to direct his delights. The record soothingly oscillates between marching trumpet-led, Andean numbers ("Con Un Solo Zapato No Se Puede Caminar," "Bomba Chaya") to heart-grabbing, mellow pieces that'll get you weeping on your pillow ("Campos Magnéticos," "Un Gran Vacío"), or simply dancing ("Bailar Bien Bailar Mal"), all of them displaying a variety of genres that jump from folk to hip hop, flamenco to reggaeton, carrying on the finest pop articulation.

Even though this is the musician's highest vibrant and upbeat collection of themes, we shouldn't be fooled only by the animated harmonies. The dynamic songsmith also distills awe-inspiring lyrics guaranteed to provoke tears in sensitive, susceptible listeners. Take, for instance, tracks like "Campos Magnéticos" or "Un Gran Vacío," whose brutal honesty may cause difficulty in coming back to them without feeling a bit down. On the other hand, tunes in the vein of "Fruta y Té" or "Bacán tu Casa" are romantic and direct compositions so enchantingly sticky and melodiously alluring they might not leave your head for a while.

Gepe has yet to release a weak record. We can describe his flourishing trajectory to this accessible stage as something risky yet impeccable. And, though the free-spirited, unabashedly digestible GP probably will disconcert many fans, there's no denying it's yet another strong addition to the artist's exceptional discography. Most important is the manner this achievement flows. It's entrancingly circular and, contrary to that recent Café Tacvba effort, should take you one spin to get attached. Gepe is a composer who seems to conjure hits effortlessly. Hell, he wrote the majority of these songs during a period of three months, recruited the best producer in the game, and quickly gave birth to a round release that has made us re-evaluate if "El objeto antes llamado disco" is obsolete. Yet, as Pegasvs, Juventud Americana, and now GP have demonstrated, we can firmly declare that the album format is still alive.

Arca - Stretch 2

Stretch 2, Arca
UNO NYC, Venezuela
Rating: 87
by Pierre Lestruhaut

At this point, it’s understandable why it seems so hard for anyone at CF to write about Arca. Carlos Reyes himself told me he found his music deeply fascinating but had the hardest trouble articulating why after I announced I was going to battle my neurons and exhaust my own serotonin trying to review Stretch 2, Arca's third release of the year. The fairly wide exposure and assorted display of reviews he’s been getting since releasing it has proven to be a worthy guide into How to Review Arca, if only to spare myself from surrendering to the gushing critical cop-out of “words could not describe how great this is” I sort of fell into while reviewing his debut EP Barón Libre. Except perhaps this time we won’t oblige ourselves in hiding the artist's identity to protect his anonymous status, considering how it’s just been made widely public who Arca really is.

But fuck that. If Burial has been earning continuous critical accolades for half a decade without anyone giving a fuck about William Bevan, then why couldn't we discuss Arca's work without the unnecessary delving into the author’s conspicuously divergent past musical work? Detaching the oeuvre from the identity of its authorship is itself a respectable artistic statement too, though at this point it’s probably just going to get you a lot of needless comparisons with aforementioned uber shy beat maker. Yet considering the similarities they both sport in their sonic palette–the use of negative space, the highly processed vocals, and the dreary-club-at-2-am atmosphere–they’re in fact working within a very similar set of moods and sensitivities.

Looking closer, though, one starts to discover some fluctuations within Arca's own palette, revealing a shape-shifting aesthetic that eludes all possible shelving of it under a satisfyingly similar pre-existing umbrella. And that’s when writers like us end up staring at our screen for hours, helplessly thinking how to write about stuff like this. Because we can’t really figure out what the fuck this is, even though we've got a clear feeling it seems to be landing somewhere at the intersection of dubstep, southern rap, Salem and trip-hop. It’s as if Arca’s taken the old Groucho Marx quote of not wanting to belong to any club that would have you as a member a bit too seriously, shrugging off any possibility that there might be someday a term that could satisfyingly describe his music on his upcoming AllMusic page. Not that he’s showing off in genre-hopping presumptuousness; he’s just applying such elusiveness into tailoring his own aesthetic.

Although Arca has certainly found his place among the family of young label UNO NYC–sporting a fine roster that usually works within the frames of ghoulishly distressing forward-thinking electronica–he also seems to stand out from it by the sheer breadth of the work he has done in less than a year of releasing material. Consider just how much Stretch 2 elicits such a wide array of moods and feelings: a record that starts with shape-shifting drums inducing a sense of claustrophobia and lack of space (“Self Defense” and “Fortune”), quickly evolves into codeine-infused stoney numbers (“2 Blunted” and “Tapped In”), and just as we move through the rave synth-driven hook of “Broke Up” (at which point Arca’s alien vocals find their funkiest incarnation), closers “Meditation” and “Manners” dismiss vocals and eeriness altogether, instead patiently building a steady beat around angelic chords and soft vocal harmonies.

It would be natural to think that such a wide array of sounds would place him at the heart of eclectic trend-setter coolness, yet it’s his constantly shifting set of moods and the roller-coaster of emotions he elicits that actually responds to the more primal and visceral feelings we seek while listening to music. It’s fair to talk about Swans’ The Seer, a record so uninterested in the current musical landscape people can only talk about it in terms of the whole experience of listening to it, how it focuses solely in getting us to the visceral, the impulsive, and the anxious. Arca gets us there too, yet his M.O. is so broadly absorbent and referential (while also being so damn elusive of trends) that it works so well as both an emotional and a cerebral experience. As his palette continues to gracefully stretch in unexpected directions, it’s safe to say that the whole narrative behind Arca is essentially the expansion of his own aesthetic.