Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DAPUNTOBEAT-I/O (Creme Deluxe Records, 2013)

First I look at the presentation and I'm all like wow! I can't simply wrap my head around the idea of a Mexican indie band releasing their music  in this format: clear vinyl LP with a plastic clear sleeve. I mean, these guys must be huge (or be spoiled the sons of rich parents) to get their music pressed in this prestigious and extra-expensive format. 
My next obvious thought is: why isn't anybody, this side of the border, talking about them? 
And the answer is a bit depressing. It's not that their music isn't good enough, it's that their music isn't Latin enough, so it doesn't quite fit the strict rules of the segmented US music market.
This record has ten million more chances of being picked up to be played on my DJ sets than anything Nortec has ever released. Still, the media, the labels, the critics and the public in the US love Nortec mainly because of their use of chuntie norteño samples over their clunky techno. Dapuntobeat just makes some dope straight-up funky electronic dance beats (somewhere between Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem) and if it wasn't for their Spanish lyrics (which are present on just a few tracks) you wouldn't be able to tell they're from Latin America. So, in essence, they don't have the exotic south-of-the-border flavor that modern Latin needs in order to be marketed to the US-based crowds. Fucking sad. 
But at the same time I'm happy they're sticking to their guns. If they'd start playing congas over every beat and wearing ironic sombreros or pointy boots they'd probably get signed by a US-based label like Nacional and then their music wouldn't be pressed on vinyl like this any more. 

Buy it on iTunes (vinyl currently available exclusively in Mexico)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

ELEMENTS OF LIFE-Eclipse (Fania Records, 2013)

I have nothing but respect for Latin house maximum pioneer Louie Vega. However, I'm not much of a house fan, per se, so for obvious reasons Kenny Dope is and will always be my favorite half of the Masters At Work. Still, when I heard that Fania Records was coming out with a new release, their first release of brand new original music in decades (they've been doing mostly reissues and remixes in this new incarnation of the label so far) and it was going to be one by Louie Vega's live band project, I was extremely excited for it. I really loved what Joe Claussell did for Fania last year and I was expecting something on that sense.
Was I disappointed when I finally listened to it? Well, yes and no. Don't get me wrong there's some great musicianship in this Elements of Life band and I think they're a good match for Fania. It's very soulful, as expected, and more on the chill side than the dance floor, but still, some beautiful music. Problem is, all the lyrics are filled with optimistic, positive, uplifting messages and after a couple of tracks I get annoyed by that. Sorry, I'm too cynical, and I can only take save-the-children-heal-the-earth type of songs in very small doses. I need more Pedro Navaja on my Fania, I need more gritty streets. This is too clean, too shinny, too sterile.
Anyway, that's just one of the 2 CDs in this pack. The second one is an hour-plus-change mix set of reworked Fania classics and covers and I loved it from beginning to end. Just for that second CD, it's worth picking this one up. I would usually suggest you get the vinyl edition, but you'd be missing this mix, so in an unlikely move, I'll recommend you to ignore your instincts, don't judge this album by its horrible cover, and buy the CD instead.

Orde yours HERE.

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."  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SUPER SPANISH COMBO-Llegó El Combo (Fresh Kingdom, 2013)

Spain has been for many years the capital of rap purism. When it comes to rap in Cervantes' language, these guys pretty much set the standards back in the late nineties, and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, outside of the US, followed suit. Spain has given us some of the most talented lyricists and beat makers but it also made Spanish-language rap boring, too academic and totally undanceable. I have a pile of vinyl records from that scene and some of them are amongst my all-time favorites (SFDK, Violadores del Verso, Sólo Los Solo, Tremendo), I value these as some of the most precious pieces of my collection, however I never pull them out when I go DJ at a party because it'd be impossible to make anybody dance with them.
Fortunately there are worthy exemptions to every rule. Enter Spanish Super Combo. I'm sure most of those backpacker b-boy purist of the Spanish rap golden era will totally dismiss this, the same way they dismissed Orishas and pretty much everybody else that tried to make their Spanish rhymes flow over dance floor-friendly beats with samples and/or arrangements of Afro-Latin music. I know this for a fact because I was one of those purists back then. For us everybody that was trying to mix rap with Latin beats was a sellout, was going commercial. Rap had to be all about brain-hurting, tongue-twisting, elaborate rhymes.
Well, fuck that. I wanna make people dance and these guys had found the perfect balance between rap and dope instrumental beats to please the most diverse crowds, even if they don't understand any Spanish. True, they don't have much of a "deep" message (they're a sort of a party band after all) and they most probably could never come up with a composition of Tote King's caliber but they have something all those purists lack, they have funky catchy beats that will get the Latina hotties in the club to shake their booty. So I can predict they'll be selling a lot of this vinyl LP to DJ's across all Europe and beyond, even to ñu-cumbia DJs who aren't into hip-hop at all will dig this. Also, the packaging art is pretty cool. Definitely worth paying for the international shipping.

Buy it HERE.

Friday, March 1, 2013

LOS AMIGOS INVISIBLES-Repeat After Me (Nacional Records, 2013)

The horniest Venezuelans are back with some more of their usual funky disco shit. I've written plenty about them in the past, and particularly about my love-hate relationship with their music and their audience. So I'm gonna skip that, since it all pretty much remains the same. 
It's understandable that after the great reception of their Grammy-awarded album Commercial they'd keep exploring that same line and come out with another album of purposely commercial pop songs. No disappointment there. 
Sure, my DJ/digger background begs for more deep funk, more risky fusions with Latin tropical genres (totally absent in this album) and if it's not too much asking at least some percussion breaks. But I know I can't expect that from them in their current phase when they seem so committed to perfecting the radio-friendly song formula (they got Cachorro López as a producer to guarantee that, once again). 
At least they keep surprising me with a few unexpected choices. Like evoking the classic Motown groove of The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love" on the bass-line of the blatantly '80s pop tune that kicks off this new album after a hilarious intro that exclusively Spanish-speakers will get. And then there's that oddball of a song, properly titled "Mostro," that probably started as an inside-joke in the rehearsal studio with them pretending to be the cantina band from Star Wars, Episode IV. It's wacky as hell, but my inner nerd connects with them in those weird places, the same weird places that I know the hot Latinas in short dresses that pack all their live concerts will most probably never understand.
Other than that, my favorite moment in their album is, as it's usually the case, when the singer gets the fuck off the stage and lets the band do their funky shit. In Repeat After Me that happens once, on "Robot Love," the track that has the most chances at entering my DJ sets. 
What I noticed about these guy's evolution is that now that they've fully incorporated English lyrics to their repertoire, for some reason they leave all the horny, lewd content for the Spanish-language songs and the English ones are more generic, about forbidden love and cheesy stuff like that. The only explanation I can postulate for this is that since they moved to the US some of them married monolingual English-speaking wives and they don't want them to find out what they're really singing about (ie. anal sex) when they go on tour and pack rooms full of hot chicks. 
Anyway, the rest of the album is pretty much typical Los Amigos Invisibles, although it overall leans more onto the '80s than the '70s sound that was their recognizable trait early in their carrer.  I guess this is what works the best for them at this point and what pleases their loyal fan-base the most. So, good for them. Keep on repeating after yourselves.