Monday, March 11, 2013

Bajofondo: Presente

Finally!  Believe it or not, I have been trying to write this post all weekend.  Between doing laundry and revising my husband's 15-page grad-level chemistry paper, however, there just wasn't time (also, in case you're wondering what my husband's paper was about, I can summarize as follows: and! the! proteins! synthesis!... and that's about all I understood).  Now that the kids are happily watching Levar Burton's rendition of a bumbling scientist, however, I've got a minute.  So let's get this you-know-what done!

First, Bajofondo.  One of the Rhapsody tidbits about the band is that they released their first album, 2002's Bajofondo Tango Project, "hot on the heels of the wildly successful Gotan Project", a French group that mixes traditional Latin sounds with electronica (although I'd never heard of Bajofondo before, I'm pretty sure I own a Gotan Project album).  Of course, just because the basics of Bajofondo's sound include tango and electronica doesn't mean that's all they do - I found a Billboard interview with co-founding member Gustavo Santaolalla where he describes their music as having "elements of tango, but also milonga, candombe, rock, hip-hop, electronica, folk, symphonic music, progressive rock and funk", and he also points out that "when we started in the beginning it was 80% programmed and 20% played. And I would say today it’s probably 85% playing and 15% programmed."  And this abundance of instrumentation sure shows on this newest album, which Santaolalla estimates to feature around 30 musicians on its 21 tracks.

So, besides the obvious electro-tango thing, what does this album sound like (incidentally, the first time I wrote the phrase "electro-tango", I thought I made it up.  I didn't)?  Many of these tracks share similarities, but "Pide piso" is a highlight, opening with a funky hollow drum and sprinkles of shaken percussion before blurts of electronic distortion and synthesized hand claps ease the track into the magical groove between Latin beats and club fare.  Then, dramatic string flourishes and a heavy-handed keyboard crank it up yet another notch, solidifying the tune in the electro-tango canon.  Furthermore, like virtually every other track on the record, "Pena en mi corazon" also builds slowly, beginning with an echoing drum beat and drawn-out background notes, finally adding Santaolalla on vocals (his voice sounds like a prettier version of that belonging to CafĂ© Tacvba's Ortega), and even later piling on expansive strings and an electric guitar that give the track a very rock 'n' roll feel.  And I would be remiss not to note what I can only guess to be the punny nature of the lyrics: when Santaolalla snarls "Tengo/Pena en mi corazon" (I have/Pain in my heart) it almost sound like he's saying "tango" instead.  My mother would be so proud!  There's also "La trufa y el sifon", which puts tinkly keyboards under blasts of distorted guitar and another European club beat; the a cappella and James Bond-worthy "Oigo voces", which layers sweet vocal "ooh"s with a growly, low-voiced "wum-pum-pum-pum"; and the swag-tastic "Olvidate", which pairs tribal drums with disco strings and chanted lyrics.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this album.  The instrumentation was rich, the beats suspenseful, and the concept is something that I admittedly enjoy.  I wouldn't feel that I was doing my job if I didn't mention the record's tendency towards the melodramatic, however, which is both a product of the whole "tango" aspect and the unabashed, fatty club beats which have a very European flair.  And don't get me wrong - I love cheesy European techno, as my predilection for In-Grid, Miss Kittin and Benny Benassi demonstrates in spades (Miss Kittin isn't that cheesy, though, right?  maybe not????), but it's definitely not for everyone.  And this aspect definitely diminishes the "cool" factor of this new release, and jarred me on my first listen.  Of course, it only took me a second listen to come to terms with the cheese, since this album is pretty fun, after all, even in all its drama.

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