There is hope for the future of music… And it comes from Argentina and Uruguay
Bands heralded as innovative, or cutting edge, seem to me quite the opposite. “Innovation”, as the word is thrown around today typically translates to an ill-use of digitally manipulated sounds and dehumanizing edits in lieu of a genuine evolution of songwriting and arrangement. As Minneapolis-based record producer extrodinaire Kevin Bowe once told me (paraphrasing), “this modern phenomena can been attributed to young people becoming proficient in the use of recording technology without a similar level of knowledge and dedication to the art of songwriting and composition”. I couldn’t agree more.
What we’ve wound up with in regard to most contemporary popular music is a thin replica of foundationally solid work that evaporates as quickly as it appears. Put plainly, much of what music industry idiots gush over in the modern era is nothing more than shit clothed in an ugly new sonic wardrobe. In this humble musician/blogger’s opinion, true innovation occurs independent of any reliance on production tricks. King Crimson’s (https://www.dgmlive.com/king-crimson) 80’s albums- Beat, Discipline, and Three of a Perfect Pair, come to mind as examples of true innovation. King Crimson redefined how instruments function in an ensemble setting and took the exploration of time signature to places where no man or woman has gone before. These compositions could be played on pots and pans and they wouldn’t lose their intrinsic value.
Many of you are rightly muttering to yourselves, “how can this guy blast the use of modern production techniques while using King Crimson as an example of innovation, especially when founder Robert Fripp famously invented and extensively used ‘Frippertronics’? ”. To that I say, point well taken. So here’s qualification of my critique: production technique is perfectly acceptable so long as it serves to enhance a solid musical foundation versus being the foundation of a recording. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to who I feel is one of the great hopes for the future of music: Bajofondo! (http://www.bajofondomusic.com)
Bajofondo is a collective of Argentinian and Uruguayan musicians who released their first album, “Bajofondo Tango Club” in 2002, followed by “Remixed” in 2005, “Mardulce” in 2007, and “Presente” in 2013. For the purpose of this post, I will share my thoughts on what I believe to be their two most important albums: Mardulce and Presente.
In the spirit of avoiding redundancy, the over-arching musical constants of these albums are, 1. The use of samba rhythms and the variations thereof. The technical term escapes me, but think House Techno beat meets Rio during Carnivale; 2. Use of piano in the tango tradition and it’s classical roots; 3. Prominence of accordion; 4. Violin, typically in unison with accordion motifs, and lastly, 5. Heavy reliance on the string section.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way….
Mardulce offers some real gems- “Hoy” featuring Juan Subira is one of the stand-outs. Imagine if you will (insert Twilight Zone theme song here): Joe Cocker and Tom Waits have a Latin love child who grows up to become a singer and voila!, you have the expressive Juan Subira. The song is a slow bossa with beautiful classical piano and blues keyboard textures. Instrumental arrangement aside, this one’s really all about Subira. Probably my favorite tune, “Pa’Bailar” (Siempre Quiero Mas. w/Julieta Venegas version and Instrumental version) throws down a four on the floor power groove with an 1/8 note back-beat on the highhat remeniscient of early Prince. Add violin motifs that sound like they could’ve been pulled from a movie in the 1920s, and you wind up with an incredibly clever soundscape. Oh, and did I mention vocalist Julieta Venegas is amazing? “El Mareo” with Gustavo Cerati on vocals could easily be featured in a movie soundtrack. The visualization that comes to mind is a horse and rider galloping across the Patagonian steppes. “El Anden” is a slamming hip hop groove featuring La Mala Rodriguez on vocals. Mala’s voice is sweet and youthful and bounces effortlessly against counterpoint melodies. “Tuve Sol” could also fit the soundtrack of wide open places but does so in a more percussive way. Bajofondo is almost exclusively compositional in their approach, but “Tuve Sol” seems to have it’s genesis in the singer/songwriter tradition. “Chiquilines”, featuring Lagrima Rios, takes Bajofondo in yet another direction, where jazz meets 1970s adult contemporary in an Al Stewart-type-of-way. The syncopations are beautifully angular.
Presente in many ways feels like an extention of Mardulce. “Codigo de barra” is similar to Mardulce’s “El Mareo” in that it is soundtrack-esque and worthy of an epic South American western. The difference in this western though is that there’s a little french cafe next to a classical concert hall where the gauchos come to relax after a hard day on the plains. “Pide Piso” takes Bajofondo in a direction similar to Daft Punk including layering and the clever use of crescendo & decrescendo culminating in a grand ending. “Pena en mi corazon” is a rare rocker sung with great passion and is indicative of this band’s wide range and scope. “La Trufa y el sifon” is MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE. Great tango piano riffs interspersed with crunch electric guitar and a Cars-esque use of keyboards and counter melodies. The vocal pads build throughout the song and are sure to cause goosebumps. Bajofondo masterfully uses form and breakdowns to enhance La Trufa with the cherry on top of the cake being the tag crescendo out. “Oigo voces” is an ode of sorts to Bobby McFerrin and a ton of fun. “A repechaje” is a funky diversion implying the 1970s Bay Area vibe replete with breakdowns fit for (or from?) the movie “Psycho”. The accordian work here is arguably the best out of both albums.
I could go on for hours praising Bajofondo but it wouldn’t be enough. This is that rare band: three dimensional in its skill, range of ideas, and use of arrangement. You could play these songs a hundred times and you’d hear something new with every listen. Bajofondo properly leverages technology as well as anyone out there (Ric Ocasek are you listening?).
The hope for the future of music is here!! …and they come from Argentina and Uruguay. Long live Bajofondo!
Michael Raymond Reitz www.michaelreitz.net ; www.theapme.com ; https://twitter.com/TheAPME ; https://www.facebook.com/TheAmericanPopMusicExperiment/