María y José - C L U B N E G R O

C L U B N E G R O, María y José 
Casete, México
Rating: 92
by Andrew Casillas

As the great 2 Chainz once said, “They ask me what I do and what I do it for, and how I come up with this shit up in the studio.” This is a fair approximation for most peoples’ reaction to the María y José oeuvre. Seriously, put on a María y José song for any “regular” person, and the typical reaction is generally, “Whoa, what the hell is this?” Let’s face it: Tony Gallardo’s ear is full of some pretty fucked up sounds. But they’re damn good sounds. And in the case of Club Negro, these sounds are downright masterful.

Before diving into the specifics of Club Negro, it’s helpful to put things in context. Specifically, what makes María y José’s collected output, and much of pop music’s canonized “weird” music, so...palatable? Weirdness isn’t the result of some hidden desire to top the pop charts but an uninhibited desire to force mass audiences to come to you. Does anyone think Frank Zappa or Don Glen Vilet really locked themselves in a closet with Monkees records? And it took the Flaming Lips years to develop the huckster shtick that allowed them to escape the infamy of being that band at the Peach Pit, but that’s not saying that the music itself relied on novelty. (Not to mention that their insistence on integrating the big balloons and dancing Santa Clauses with the non-populist freak-outs of Embryonic and The Terror assures us that Wayne Coyne is enjoying some meta-reflection on success.) It may not be the most poetic of statements, but what Gallardo and others have figured out is that you can be as weird as you want and still enjoy pop success—as long as you’re weird with a purpose.

What makes María y José so interesting is that it’s entirely the operation of one man: Tony Gallardo. He isn’t the leader of a band or collective and doesn’t seem to have any particular person to bounce ideas off of. Contrast this with the other “weird pop” standard-bearer of the moment: The Knife. Shaking the Habitual is a fiery, dark, confrontational piece of left-of-left-field electronic pop. But it’s clearly the word of two people with the freedom to bounce ideas off one another and then execute the best ideas with cold precision. And it works, as evidenced by the fact that Shaking the Habitual is a really good record.

Calling Gallardo’s María y José project “rudderless” would imply that his craft should contain a rudder in the first place. Gallardo runs his ship on much more rudimentary scale. His records don’t set up blocks for the purpose of knocking them down later; rather, his auteur approach to DJ music is free form and keeps any foundation to a minimum. Given these circumstances, it is no surprise that his prior music, under his real name and as María y José, is singular and highly acclaimed. But, with Club Negro, Tony Gallardo takes that next step: his music is important. He is no longer the resident weirdo at the Iberoamerican pop banquet table. He is the visionary. Albeit one who’s really good at Twitter.

Thus it’s only fitting that the first vocals on Club Negro belong to a cat. “Granada” opens the album on a quirky, oddly confessional tick—a hymn to idiosyncrasy in the social media age. Two songs that, by contrast, are absolute bangers—"Violentao" and "Rey de Reyes"—follow up the opener. These three tracks each dates back to at least 2011, but have been “re-imagined” for this album. The BPMs get lessened for “Granada” and “Violentao,” fitting due to their more somber subject matter (although you can’t be blamed for slightly missing the fervent terror of the original “Violentao” production). “Rey de Reyes” features new vocals over the original “SIT DOWN, 3BALL” big beat from two years ago. If anything was left to do with ruidoson, Gallardo killed it with the original version, but the Club Negro redux delightfully pisses on its grave.

At this point, it’s appropriate to address the numerous remakes, revisions, and remixes that Club Negro’s encountered for almost three years. This wouldn’t matter if not for the fact that one-third of the album tracks consist of pre-2012 songs. (“Puerto Alegría” was recently replaced by a remix of “Kibosé” that’s a bit too WUB WUB WUB WUB). The other, more prevalent issue that comes with these alterations is the sinking feeling that the track listing was overthought. That’s not to attack the vitality of the other Club Negro tracks. It’s just that the constant tampering leaves many of the other tracks sounding haphazard and almost mismatched at times. In isolation, there are some marvelous moments here. “Cripta Real” glides amidst a delightful cacophony of percussion and club-ready chorus. The aforementioned “Ultra” actually finds a way to build off the “Backseat Freestyle” intro into something more poised and cool than could be imagined. And the title track that closes the album is just delicious, combining OutKast horns, tribal beat, Detroit keyboards, and Tijuana cool into one efficient package.

Then again, María y José’s debut album also had its share of great singles. But what ultimately separates Club Negro from Espíritu Invisible in terms of quality is how Gallardo builds and sets the non-club tracks into the framework on the record. Whereas the debut lost steam when the beat dropped out, Club Negro delivers “M v t i v s,” which reveals that the man behind the boards is a real artist now. A drone track that many listeners will probably skip after the first listen, careful listens ultimately reveal a primal and calming intermission signifying a brief reprieve from the organized chaos and disorganized noise symbolized through the record. Pretty impressive considering the Knife wasted 30 minutes of time trying to accomplish the same thing as “M v t i v s” does, and nowhere near as effectively.

For all the deserved praise and artistic growth that Tony Gallardo has experienced over the past half-decade, it’s hard to imagine that the mainstream public will readily embrace Club Negro and its brilliant weirdness. Then again, did anyone think the Flaming Lips would be prime festival headliners? María y José’s path is limitless—it’s all a matter of whether he’ll be embraced today or tomorrow. But I doubt that Tony Gallardo really cares about these things. Anyone who makes music this weird, this confident, and this good surely doesn’t think of himself as a part of any time, place, or pop music trend. Because honestly: Fuck a movement.

Matias Aguayo - "El Sucu Tucu"

Matias Aguayo is back, yo. The product of five years of recording and a good deal of traveling, the Chilean-born, Cologne-based DJ-slash-producer's third album, The Visitor, drops June 24th on his own label, Cómeme. In the interim, though, we have “El Sucu Tucu,” the album’s first single, to tide us over. And tide us it shall.

Backed by a Mission Impossible-ish beat that melds with computer-generated samba drums, Aguayo shouts out Daniel Maloso, a collaborator on The Visitor, and then layers his vocals on as another percussive element, scatting and stuttering about how crazy and great the rhythm is. And he’s absolutely right. This is Aguayo at his finest—lightly tropical, bass-heavy, pleasantly repetitive, and just the right amount of nonsensical—a natural follow-up to 2009’s superb Ay Ay Ay. "El Sucu Tucu" is damn catchy, and begs for repeated listening, and, of course, dancing.

Amor Elefante - Parque Miñaqui

Parque Miñaqui, Amor Elefante
Independiente, Argentina
Rating: 75
by Carlos Reyes

If Anglo indie music percolated into the mainstream by providing service to major automobile and snack advertising agencies, perhaps our Iberoamerican indie scene will have a similar fate. Last year, during a family trip to Disneyland, my 5-year-old niece shocked the hell out of me when she started humming the chorus of “Hoy Es Hermoso” by Amor Elefante, a band whose biggest exposure had been the inclusion of their lo-fi anthem “Nuevas Bienvenidas” in our Juventud Bruta compilation. Turns out the catchy tune entered households across the States as part of an ad campaign by Lowe’s (who have also featured Furland and Carla Morrison in their commercials).

While “Hoy Es Hermoso” didn’t quite make Amor Elefante a household name, it sure exposed their infectious-yet-unassuming pop melody to the great scale of entertainment. The Argentine band keeps making the right moves, investing the money earned from the TV spot into the production of their gorgeous-sounding sophomore effort, Parque Miñaqui. From its structure to its content, this is an album that beats happiness from its very core. Not a departure from nor an extension of their self-titled debut, Parque Miñaqui should provide the band with more than mere momentum.

Whether blooming melodies in orchestrated assemblies (“Es Amor” and “La Chaperona”) or baring them on reliable guitar pop hues (“Tu Vida Es Magica”), Amor Elefante can craft pop music that feels simultaneously sad and celebratory. “No quiero dejar de jugar,” sighs singer Rocio Bermandiner in “Todo Podemos.” But as the assembly of instruments progresses, the desire to play turns into a rallying cry (“no quiero dejar de llorar”), making for one very moving coming of age piece. At 12 tracks long (of similar tones and ambitions), Parque Miñaqui does acquire a formality that’s hard to associate to a youth’s blinking nature, but like everything in the album’s thematic playground, even this flaw registers as something charming in its own little way.

Julieta Venegas - Los Momentos

Los Momentos, Julieta Venegas
Sony Music, Mexico
Rating: 90
by Carlos Reyes

“Toda la mujer que yo no fui / por no quedarme a tu lado.” So sings Venegas against the backdrop of a menacing tango flair in title track of her sixth studio album. There’s inevitable posture in its composition—a dramatic classicist structure, wounding raw lyrics, and a tailored, almost cinematized vocal performance worthy of a María Luisa Bemberg film. The wavering of those spoken first words project vulnerability, but Venegas quickly finds her inner tenor and confronts the esoteric soundscape with profound emotional resonance. “Los Momentos” is a self-portrait of sorts. Like its album cover, it’s witty, tragic, and strong. And it borders on the sublime. Her career didn’t need this blockbuster piece, but it’s here to substantiate the calling of Julieta as a mononymous artist, something of great artistic regard, especially in Latin America.

First promotional cut “Tuve Para Dar” confused more than it amused and, although “Te Vi” is arguably Julieta’s best single since “Lento,” neither track prepared us for the kind of album that would be presented to us. Los Momentos is a mesmerizing surprise. While the singles (+ the presence of Javiera Mena and Gepe) pointed us to a Chilean pop agenda, Julieta has triggered the edge of her past and reconciled it with the zeitgeist. Purists won’t agree, but Los Momentos is Julieta’s first rock album in many years, and arguably her best since Bueninvento. This is not coming from a rockosaurio who’s been longing for Julieta’s return to rock music, but rather from someone who’s embraced the cultural significance of Julieta’s tour de force pop ventures.

Expressively alert and often desolate, Los Momentos is an album whose contemplative agency will challenge the mainstream, but never to the point of alienation. Album opener “Hoy” seems like a happy-go-lucky number, and yet it breaks your heart in the most hummable of ways. The emotional deconstruction follows into “¿Por Que?,” where melodic mood is empowered by obscurity. But we’re never entirely lost; we’re able to hold on to Julieta’s instrumental pedigree as that familiar accordion line  unfolds into our memory and encourages the emotional and physical mobility she advocates on the lyrics. Notions of sorrow and displacement predominate on the album, and it’s hard not to link such tormenting feelings to a personal and eventually shared response to Mexico’s riveting violence.

Los Momentos negotiates its themes with its subjects at such clarity that the emotional landscape truly feels universal. The album’s complexity comes from the small gestures offered by Julieta’s well-thought out choices. Gestures like the extension of vowels, the making of bridges from the back vocals into the foreground, and the prioritizing of melodramatic flairs over centerpieces. Those gestures are best presented as melodic swellings and vocal crescendos in the opening and closing numbers “Hoy” and “Un Poco de Paz,” as well as in album best “Nada Importante.” There’s no deeper cut than the realization of a “nothingness,” and it is here where the singer surrenders her narratives to the rhythm of the pulse.

It’s a shame there’s not a term as self-defining and private as that of the “auteur” to commend someone’s creative control in music. Perhaps because music is in itself a medium assimilated to a personal space, music journalism has settled for descriptive salutations that fall short of celebrating someone like Julieta Venegas. Not that Julieta herself would care about validating a title, but when an artist is able to personalize narratives and increasingly break conventions while maintaining relevance to the society she serves, there’s a responsibility to accentuate and embrace individual idiosyncrasy. Working on a commercial venture that reconciles artistic possibilities with mass absorption, Julieta’s Los Momentos, is a triumphant gesture of the artists’ sensitivity, and dare I use the word, intelligence.

Lê Almeida - (covers) pt. 1

(covers) pt. 1, Lê Almeida
Transfusão Noise Records, Brazil
Rating: 71
by Enrique Coyotzi

So, I’ll declare it straight away: I’m truly mesmerized by this collection. Cover releases are something to be skeptical—a dangerous territory to step in. Despite my distrust, attentively examining the possibilities, it shouldn't necessarily turn out into something disastrous. It was proven by Cat Power. She broke hearts with the marvelous 2000 must The Covers Record, where she adopted twelve compositions by other artists while making them totally her own. A similar panorama surrounds discordant boy Lê Almeida’s (covers) pt. 1 EP.

Packed by five distortion-fed, electrically scrumptious, non-hits belonging principally to bands blooming in the early '90s (save for Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”), the Transfusão Noise Records’ founder accentuates why noise is an accompanying trademark for his netlabel. Bringing to the table the stripped-down elements utilized in Chan Marshall's eminent The Covers Record, digging a whole different spectrum, Lê Almeida also adapts a homogeneous flavor through a short but electrifying ride, each of the songs (recorded between 2009 and 2012) in his unpolished, lo-fi style, standing somewhere between No Age's sweatier, head-hammering slices off Nouns, and Ty Segall's ever permeating playfulness, shaded by rancid alcoholic breath.

Two personal favorites attracted me initially to explore this gem: Nirvana and Pavement. "Marigold" and "Loretta's Scars," a pair of die-hard fans' treasures of these legends, sound surprisingly correct under the garage rocker's precise English diction and filthy chords that feel like home. They resemble a time machine traveling back to the '90s, reminding us why this music shaped us thirsty, raw guitar work lovers in the first place. The most pleasant discoveries come via bands I had never heard of before. Bunnygrunt's "1000% Not Creepy" doesn't upgrade on the original version, yet sparks as the EP's most savage slap. However, the cooled-down take on Brazilian cult ensemble Second Come's classic "Run Run" won my heart. Speaking to fellow Fonograma writer Pierre Lestruhaut regarding my excitement for discovering this track, he stated how Second Come had "nothing to envy Pavement."

And neither does the devoted dirty guitar-licks conjurer. Following "Run Run," the EP properly concludes with the California hipsters cover—faithful to Slanted and Enchanted's version, simultaneously transmitting a refreshing, up to date air. (covers) pt. 1 shines a green light of why we should be expecting a second offering. If it's as good as the first one, we wouldn't mind Lê Almeida to keep gracing us with familiar mementos of missed, simpler days where an outstanding riff perpetuated, unlike many of the gone with the wind Internet buzz.

Fonocast #14: Now & Then

Fonocast #14: Now & Then
by Blanca Méndez, Melissa Rico, and Giovanna Sánchez

  • Julieta Venegas - "Hoy"
  • Julieta Venegas - "Algo esta cambiando"
  • Café Tacvba - "Aprovéchate"
  • Café Tacvba - "Quiero Ver"
  • Belinda - "En La Obscuridad"
  • Belinda - "Ni Freud Ni Tu Mamá"
  • Selena Gomez & The Scene - "Tell Me Something I Don't Know"
  • Selena Gomez - "Come & Get It"
  • Tego Calderon - "Los Mate"
  • Tego Calderon - "Colabore"
  • Ivy Queen - "Quiero Bailar"
  • Ivy Queen - "Peligro de Extinción"

Dënver - "Revista de gimnasia"

It’s finally happening. And, as expected, it’s beautiful. Almost three years after releasing their monumental sophomore album, Música, Gramática, Gimnasia, the continually-growing Chilean darlings Dënver unveiled yesterday “Revista de gimnasia,” first single off their upcoming album, Fuera de campo, which is tentatively slated for June.

Encountering the duo in full-form inside a kaleidoscopic disco music realm, “Revista de gimnasia” is HUGE. Charged by rich instrumentation, it makes them sound like an even bigger creature. Mastermind Milton Mahan, leading a mellow, impossible-not-to-fall-for naïf tone, assumes the protagonist vocal role, while Mariana Montenegro’s gentle interventions emerge to reinforce her male counterpart's caressing cadence, sprinkling an androgynous tessitura structured by seducing hooks. In such carefully executed strings and wind arrangements, this song’s splendor comes in part thanks to the twenty professional musicians which, according to Super 45, were recruited for the album.

Nonetheless, its most remarkable charm is in Mahan’s lustrous production. At first listen, one would’ve imagined that super producer Cristian Heyne was behind it. But no other than Mahan, an expanding visionary, took care of this track and of the whole LP. In "Revista de gimnasia," acrobatics and gymnastics blend and stretch out in almost four minutes of flawless lyrically oneiric ("Un chico que explota/En medio de la cancha/Y apenas lo notas/Hay trozos por tu espalda"), effervescent pop ready for a flashing dancefloor. It's bound to make you feel psyched out, unconcerned, and, primarily, alive.

El Sueño de la Casa Propia - "Caen Rocas"

A little less than 3 years after El Sueño de la Casa Propia’s Historial de Caídas earned its spot among South America’s most unique, catchy, and flat out weirdo recent electronic releases, José Manuel Cerda returns with an advance from his upcoming EP, Doble Ola. It starts with nothing but one of his signature chopped down vocal loops, predictably serving as the track’s central hook, which, for die hard fans, is a relief. Cerda is picking things up right where he left off. It also immediately raises the following question: As much as it’s reassuring to see an artist sticking to his aesthetic, wouldn't you want to see them surpass it as well? It’s precisely what Cerda does here. Once he satiates the pop fan in us with enough sampledelia and vocal hooks, he completely changes the lighting into full-on dance floor rapture mode for the track’s second half. It’s a thrilling exercise in sheer experimentation and aesthetic expansion, but an even more elegant one in deceiving your own listeners. As far as we knew of Cerda’s abilities as a thief (one who could get away with sampling the history of pop), we certainly didn’t know he could do the work of a con artist too. Doble Ola is out on April 23 via blog favorites Michita Rex.

Video: Becky G - "Becky from the Block"

Half of the YouTube comments for the "Becky from the Block" video mention Britney Spears. ("Britney sent me!") And that's how I got there. When Ms. Spears tweeted the video yesterday, with the hashtag #throwback and the promise of a cameo by Jenny from the Block herself, how could I not click through? Set in sunny Los Angeles, Becky G's spin on the J.Lo classic is slick as it is endearing, clever as it is cute. Califas pride, family values, and high aspirations are the main topics of conversation in Becky's rated-G rap (highlights: giving props to her grandpa and rhyming "barrio" with "rosario"), and it looks like we might have a new teen queen on our hands. Now that Selena Gomez is retiring the crown, Becky G, who coincidentally shares Selena's middle and last names, seems poised to take that role. She started as a YouTube rapper (check out her version of "Otis" from the @iambeckyg mixtape) and has already worked with stars like Cher Lloyd,, and Ke$ha, so we'd say she's well on her way. And with her Latina pride and down-to-earth persona (not to mention her dope Virgen de Guadalupe gear), we're not mad at all.

Video: Alex Anwandter - "Tormenta"

Back at the end of 2011, when we published our top songs of the year, our number one Chilean pop boyfriend Alex Anwandter scored three tremendous hits in our countdown. During those December days, Rebeldes blew us out. A fertile pop gem which had all the Fonograma crew profoundly enchanted, yet it became difficult to decide on a highlight because each song bloomed to an outstanding, deluxe professorship in particular style–newly-refined pop brilliance. For my part, having established a personal relationship with the album, the strikingly aching ballad “Tormenta,” alarmingly not included in said list, pumps the core of this emotionally bare-souled experience, a record we can already declare an essential reference of the contemporary Iberoamerican pop landscape.

Gorgeously shot in Puerto Rico by sharp director Álvaro Aponte, the provocatively, unjustifiably NSFW sublime clip for "Tormenta," premiered via Perez Hilton, once again demonstrates a powerful discourse derived by the singer’s thirst for equality and acceptance. According to my good friend and Fonograma guest writer Martha Preciado, organizer of the All My Friends Festival, this video represents “a statement that is not aggressive, but instead allows the public to understand the natural and organic shape of love.” In his post, Perez refers to Anwandter as the “South American Morrissey.” This comparison hardly does any justice to the artistic force Anwandter has morphed into. (Michael Jackson-esque dance moves plus Prince-evocative falsetto could always be added.) The fact is there’s no one currently like him. He's remarkably sexy, a gifted composer, and generational leading figure now reigning a league of his own.

Husky - "Undressed"

Listening to the vertiginous “Undressed” released a week ago, I understand why I became enamored with this Monterrey-Based quintet. Recorded when the guys were experimenting, still searching for a distinct sound, the B-side type of track exalts character and vibrancy. Yet, Husky’s sly way of sublimating '80s influences, exploiting vaguely familiar airs that are squatting in the dark corners of our mental hard drive, is somewhat dismissed in favor of textures and sound effects. Shrouded by echo, “Undressed” reveals an unprecedented level of dramatic tension through nervous rhythmic, incisive electric guitars and powerful interpretation. We must still acknowledge the singularity of Husky, alongside today’s current, has found a niche, a sound in which they excel: a bubblegum rock charged with bold urgency.