Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BAJOFONDO-Presente (Sony Masterworks, 2013)

And here you have it, the first contender to lead the 2013 album of the year list. 
No surprise there. I could've written that statement before even pushing play on the CD player and listening to the album. 
But I've just listened to it, the whole thing, from beginning to end, in order, as it was meant to be listened, on my headphones. And such clarification probably seems ridiculously redundant coming from somebody that reviews albums on a periodical basis, but honestly, I rarely dedicate that kind of unidirectional attention to the average music release that lands on my for-review-consideration pile. I'm rather lazy.
The reason why this particular album deserved such exceptional treatment is no secret either. Of all albums that could be labeled under Latin music released in the last couple of decades, this is one of the most ambitious ones--no questions about it. So much so, that it could be argued that it's even, in some way, arrogant.
But I'm not gonna go there--yet. I'm gonna start describing Presente as an epic masterpiece. And I'm using epic in the Conan-type movie sense of the word, not in the devalued meaning that the word epic currently has because of its overuse in the hipster blogsphere (OMG, epic fail!). 
If I was to try and find something to compare this album with, I'd probably have to dig into untapped territory (for me), something like, you know, symphonic heavy metal. I've never been a metal head myself, but many of my closest friends back home were and I followed them to more than a few concerts. Well, every time I see Bajofondo live, that's exactly what they remind me of: that same kind of overwhelming injection of pure power, virtuoso execution, theatrical performances and probably even equal levels of high-octane testosterone. 
That's the exact same thing I've just experienced right now listening to the album on my headphones. Full disclosure: my perception may be affected by recent memories, I saw them live last night. However, I'm willing to bet you'd agree even if you've never seen their show (how dare you?). Just listen to the album's explosive second track and you'll be instantly transported to that state, you'll know what I'm talking about.
In an era when home-made digital albums recorded on a laptop rule the industry, Bajofondo's Presente is almost an anachronistic rarity. It takes us back to the times of musical overindulgence when megastars had infinite budgets to record conceptual albums with capricious mood swings, "I don't like the color of this grand piano! Bring me a white one!" Also, when was the last time you got a new release with more than twelve tracks? This one has twenty one! 
Bajofondo boasts a level of sophistication that effortlessly surpasses 99% of all other Latin music released nowadays, by lightyears. Unfortunately this is the type of shit that feeds the already overinflated ego of Argentines who tend to be obnoxious with their nationalistic pride for the achievements of the likes of Messi or the new Pope. Me being from Argentina, I can't help finding some internal conflict there, because I'm not at all patriotic and I don't wanna be like "hey you, rest of Latin America, try coming out with an album like this," but with every listen (it's been three times already since I started writing this) the sheer reality of it pushes me more and more in that direction. 
It's unavoidable. The album is that good. And as I'm finding out, it gets better with every play. Nevertheless, it's definitely not easy-listening background music, like most of the avalanche of clones of Gotan Project that showed up out of nowhere in between 2003 and 2006. Listening to Bajofondo's third opus requires a certain level of commitment, it can be an exhausting, demanding experience. There's a lot going on, too many layers of refined orchestral arrangements and even some digable samples hidden there for the attentive listener, secret jewels hiding in a treasure chest, shining thanks to some superb (as expected) mixing and engineering. 
Of course, there's something to be said about the risk of over-producing and ending up with pedantic results (while it's also true that many times genius can be found in tiny DIY recordings, with just some creative lyrics and a couple of chords on a cheap acoustic guitar). But I don't think that's the case here. As much as it is complex in its composition, I don't think its pretentious at all. Nor does it fall into the easy trap of being "experimental" and doing crazy stuff that only an elite will appreciate. It still appeals to popular sensibilities and could easily reach massive commercial success across the board if properly marketed.  
I could keep going on, but I'm running out of synonyms for excellent and I'm starting to sound like a press release rather than a critique. I only wanna add that I really hope this big budget treatment they are enjoying with Sony as their new label will also translate into an upcoming deluxe double vinyl pressing (I don't see why not, after all Sony pressed double vinyl of Juan fucking Magán last year, right?). I wouldn't mind re-purchasing it and owning it in both formats.
There, that's it. I managed to write a whole Bajofondo review without even once using the hideous portmanteau "electrotango."

Alternative review by my 4-year old step-daughter:
I'm blasting it out loud for the first time in the living-room's sound system while writing this review. "Código de Barra" explodes and she comes out from wherever she was hiding playing and exclaims "Woo! I like this!" 
She keeps on paying attention, "Pide Piso" plays and she goes "Oh! Funky! This one is like fashion show music." She starts modeling her new princess shoes.
With "Pena en mi corazón," she learns and sings along to the catchy chorus before the end of the first listen, except, when Santaolalla screams "Tengo!" she says "Tango!" instead. She's that cute.
After losing her for a bit, she comes back with "Cuesta Arriba" and starts dancing, then concludes: "this is great music!"
The sad thing about it is that this little girl knows way more about music than the average party-goer I deal with on the regular at Latin-music parties, the types that would never appreciate Bajofondo and are happy dancing for the zillionth to "La Vida Es Un Carnaval."  

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