2020 hasn’t been a particularly funny year. It’s been often absurd, and absurdity can be funny, but we’re way too in the thick of the nightmare to actually laugh at it. One thing that’s been rendered somewhat comedic, in that sickly bittersweet way, is looking back at all of our social media posts from just six months ago and finding all the naively optimistic captions. “This year’s going to be a good one, I can feel it.” The kind of self-affirming nonsense that we make ourselves believe at the start of every new venture to ensure we face it with the best possible energy. Life comes at you fast.
So no, 2020 hasn’t been the year we all expected it to be (for more details on why this is true for us, read our editor-in-chief’s letter commemorating our two-year anniversary). But we’re all navigating this thing the best way we can, and one thing that has been a tremendous help has been the wealth of great new music that the local scene has produced. So while we may not have live music anymore, we have had a lot of incredible releases to write about. Here’s a selection of ten releases from the first six months of 2020 that we’ve really loved, presented in no particular order.
If you want to keep track of our monthly song highlights, click here. You really should, because they’re really good.
Isla Mujeres – Secreto
There is an ocean of feeling surrounding Isla Mujeres’ latest full-length release, Secreto. After just a few seconds of the watery beats and glimmering synth pads on opening track “Mi nombre,” the listener is submerged in the indigo mood of the song’s creators, caressed by the unaffected, somewhat robotic intonations of the doubled lead vocals and subtle harmonies. But were we to assume that we have arrived at our final destination for the rest of the record — after all, this would be a pleasant place for any band to linger — we’d be happily mistaken. The band takes each of the ten songs as an opportunity to create a new mood and moment, but with a sonic mise en scène that always remains their own.
From the sultry rap of “Yo Me Perderé” to the echoing vocals in the chorus of “Color”, Isla Mujeres handles their disparate influences with a light touch that never fails to hit their mark. Other highlights: the clubby and sensual “Comiendonos,” the Strokes-esque “Desordenar,”and the shapeshifting, post-punk meets chillwave closer “Problema.” It’s been three years since the last album by the La Plata 4-piece pop act, but it’s proven worth the wait. Don’t hesitate and dive into Secreto’s depths — there are many treasures waiting to be discovered here.
Barbi Recanati – Ubicación en Tiempo Real
Barbi Recanati first entered my purview when her former band Utopians served as the opening act to The Cure back in 2013. I didn’t get to see her, no; by the time I actually entered River Plate stadium, the band had finished their set. But a clip of her meeting Robert Smith backstage went semi-viral, and I instantly knew I had to check out a band that reacted the same way I would if Robert Smith handed me a bottle of champagne and wished me luck. And though Utopians weren’t quite my bag, Recanati’s voice and gift for melody were unmistakeable. Just a few years later, she would emerge as not just a solo artist, but one of the most important figures in the Buenos Aires independent music scene with her debut album Ubicación en Tiempo Real.
The 7-track album may be concise by LP standards, clocking in at under half an hour, but it feels massive in its scope and confidence; it blows the doors off the party and demands loudly to be heard, with an impressive collection of sharply melodic tunes and vivid production sound. A power-pop album at heart, it’s chockfull of guitars and swirling synth passages that accompany Recanati’s vocals, which themselves go from righteously ferocious to playful to mournful in a way that recalls a certain big-haired, makeup-wearing English frontman. With stunners like the maddeningly catchy “Que No,” the icy dream-pop lament of “Los Días Que No Estás” (featuring Paula Trama of Los Besos) and the dramatic guitar whirlwind of “En La Frente,” Ubicación en Tiempo Real confidently asserts itself as one of the most impressive releases the local scene has yielded in recent memory.
Weste – Abanico
The fridge is full and you have a world of opportunities in front of you. You’re thinking Rio-Platenese, a duo of Argentine and Uruguayan flavors. You want something that’s both familiar and completely new — digestible but spicy. So you mix a little bit of everything: a dash of salsa, a heavy slab of varied traditional folklore, and a good measure of lo fi. When you really bite into it there will be horns, a type of indistinguishable whistle, a real mix of folk influences, and lots of of hip-hop. It won’t come on strong, but the intricate compositions of Igna Peréz and seductive voice of Clara Trucco will have you licking those lips the whole way through.
The opening track “Polvo” starts you off with slot machines that transition into a salsa, that later take on the ambiance of a Japanese garden. It’s the fusion of different backgrounds, the experimentation of genres that sets this album apart. “Tinta,” seduces us with its mix of horns and steady drumbeat and we’re reminded that each experience can only happen once in a lifetime. As such we allow ourselves a good long slow grind. “Quisiera” on the other hand is much more innocent, like a beautiful mantra whose repetitive lyrics lays the base for the playground of sounds that find their way into the track — from violins to a lot of synthy twinkling. The final track “Filo” leaves our mouth open with its jazzy layers, salivating for more. Best paired with a good long drive or the come down of a party when everyone’s feeling a little droopy and can adequately swallow this one down.
DDM – Anarkoplant
DDM dropped their blistering debut album Anarkoplant in late February off the back of a successful run in the 3rd edition of San Isidro Te Escucha. However, they’ve destroyed the pre-conceptions of kitschy, uninspired music which tends to go hand in hand with these sorts of arrangements. Instead they’ve set themselves apart from most music contest winners by delivering a collection of tight tracks which evoke a range of vibes from ethereal psychedelic highs to vicious balls-to-the-wall throat-ripping wails.
DDM has been together since 2017 and it’s a shame that we hadn’t stumbled onto their work earlier because this five-piece have truly created something that will scratch the itch of any post-rock fan. Tracks like “Garúa” plod away with syncopated drumming giving way to emotive finger picking, and “Azúcar Ledesma”‘s riff heavy instrumentation evoking teeth-gritting mosh goodness which then breaks down into this epic drum fill breakdown which will tear your face off with no mercy. Additionally be prepared for the unexpected sounds of “Mi Otro Tu” which seamlessly fits in within the confines of this 7 track offering, giving you a respite from the onslaught with its sparse instrumentation and howling vocals reminiscent of Kid A era Radiohead. DDM has a bright future ahead; let’s just hope to see more of this group sooner, rather than later.
Sergio Verdinelli – No Me Digas Loco
Sergio Verdinelli is a name that will sound familiar to long-time followers of rock nacional; not only was he Luis Alberto Spinetta’s longtime drummer, but he also played with other notable names like Fito Paez and Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas and many others. Aside from his work in the Argentine rock world, he’s also an established name in the jazz scene, working with both local and international acts as a sideman as well as releasing his own albums as a bandleader. His latest release No Me Digas Loco comes to us as a co-release between American label ears&eyes Records and Argentine label Twitin’ Records, and it is a stunner.
This piano-based album is a perfect late-afternoon wind-down listen; the gorgeous title track sets a thoughtful and somber mood that will run for much of the album, with breezy and beautifully effortless performances from the trio of Verdinelli, Ernesto Jodos (piano) and Mauricio Dawid (bass). The color palette here is decidedly sepia, with occasional splashes of color thrown in, such as the bouncy “Me Haces Susurrar” and the criminally groovy “Keith Berry”. Verdinelli’s bona fides in the local and international scenes run deep, and his talents as composer and performer are on full display in this beautiful collection. La La Lista was proud to host this album’s exclusive premiere on our site, so check it out here.
Telescopios – Telescopios
Let me preface this by saying I don’t really dance. I just don’t like it (mostly because I consider myself to be terrible at it) and I try to avoid it whenever possible. Incredibly enough, some kind of miracle happened during the concise 19 minutes that make up Telescopios’ eponymous third album, as I found myself yearning to shamelessly move my body in the comfort of my own living room. While not a dance record per sé, the album’s fractured, funky feel strikes the perfect balance between dance floor-friendly numbers (“Te Están Pasando”) and more introspective alternative R&B sounds (“Que Te Vean”). Unlike its predecessor, 2018’s cerebral Doble de Riesgo, Telescopios ditches the heavy-handed production values that dominated their previous effort, adopting a leaner, more minimalist approach to songwriting.
Despite its sonic restraint, the album is rich in textures and hooks, rewarding the listener and revealing new layers after each listen. If we’re talking highlights, we could say the cameos by Bandalos Chinos’ Goyo Degano (“Hyper Haters”) and Candelaria Zamar (“La Idea”) perfectly fit the band’s newfound sound, providing a different color to the album’s palette. All in all, Telescopios is a collection of solid, cohesive-sounding songs, a polaroid of a band at the peak of their powers, striving to move into the debilitated Argentine mainstream.
Emily And – Alquimia
American-born, Buenos Aires-based singer-songwriter Emily And has a lot of quirks. Allow us to list some of them: a singing style that oscillates effortlessly from brattily punky to grand and operatic; a penchant for lyrics that switch between English and Spanish, seemingly at random; a range of songs that go from snakily tricky and full of off-kilter chord progressions to unassumingly simple and straightforward; an uncanny ability to let her audience into her various emotional realities; and an unguarded approach to sharing her creative process via projects such as 100 Songs in 100 Days or spur-of-the-moment EPs (see Ups! No Pude Aguantar la Manija, an EP that was written and recorded during a health-induced exile last year, and Covid-19, an EP that was written and recorded during a health-induced exile this year).
Yes, another one of her quirks is her wild prolificness, which is why during the recording process for an upcoming full-band album she also banged out Alquimia, a 9-song guitar-and-vocals solo album that feels like another peek into the state of mind of an emotional refugee. The stage is set by the opening sort-of-title-track “Alchemy,” which consists mostly of two chords and a sneering vocal performance about “feeling nothing”; the subsequent tracks call its bluff, asserting that oh no, Emily And is in fact feeling a lot of things. From meditations on conversational pratfalls (“Perdón, Soy Re Boluda”) to a mental health to-do list (“Ni Miedos Ni Nimiedades”) and the prettiest bilingual folk song you’ll ever hear (“Happy Little Trees”), Alquimia shows Emily And in her purest form: a little funny, a little sad, a little happy, a little mad, and unflinchingly real as ever.
Fin Del Mundo – Fin Del Mundo
The four-track EP Fin del Mundo is the debut release by the band of the same name, based in Buenos Aires, with members hailing from the Southernmost reaches of Patagonia. It forms part of the catalogue of Anomalía Ediciones, an inter-Latin American record label/collective that works with bands that fall loosely under (or in the case of Fin del Mundo, somewhere nearby) the genre known as math rock. The four-piece group, all of whom are women, includes two members of the now-defunct band Boedo, and the evolution from that previous project is evident in the EP’s sound. This release represents the culmination of many years spent seeking and honing a specific sound and emotionality, meticulously crafted through the expert employment of guitar pedals and lyrical motifs (one of the songs features poetry by Alejandra Pizarnik), and painstakingly structured songs that exploit the power of dynamic to its full potential.
It’s the end of the world as you’ve known it; the past is gone, the future doesn’t exist. Everything you’ve lived was a dream. And the present? A free-fall through a vacuum of nostalgia. But it’s okay, everything’s okay. Everything is beautiful. Take a listen. Close your eyes, and let the music move through you. Don’t think about what will or won’t be there when you open them.
Blanco Teta – Incendiada
Clocking in at just a little over 10 minutes, Incendiada seems to make its sole intent to seduce you and then mercilessly stab you in an alley. This new release by the noise/art-rock quartet takes a fiercer route by upping the levels of abrasiveness, atmosphere, and groove, while topping it off with a clean and slick production sound. The EP opens with the title track, a song featuring sinuous string arrangements that feel like a pair of oval-shaped amphibian eyes are laying their gaze on you, slithering behind your back, and then showing its true colors as the hook arrives, Josefina’s guttural screams stabbing through ascending and menacing violoncello strings. It serves as a fitting statement for the whole record: We are taking no prisoners.
Our slow descent into madness is further soundtracked by songs like “Yanina” and “Cajeta Stereo,” which fall between towering nightmare soundscapes and succinct claustrophobic horror suites. “Nelliti” stutters through off-beat drums and bass lines, while “Merci Bocu” cracks its knuckles as it waits around the corner; the hellish closing track features Carola Zelaschi’s drumming and Carlos’s driving bass working to deliver a relentless sendoff that’s sure to get you grooving hard and make you wonder if you’re unwittingly participating in some sort of demonic ritual. Incendiada roughly translates to “torched,” and after such a fiery barrage of tracks, that adjective falls just short of describing what you’re getting into. You’ve been warned,
Moy – Búnker Hoy?
Stop the presses and alert all music media: Córdoba band Moy may have released the perfect pop-rock EP. By examining the contents of their latest release Búnker Hoy we might be able to figure out just how they accomplished this, and backwards-engineer our way to indie glory. Part of the equation is, evidently, the length: at 3 songs clocking in just over eight minutes, the group doesn’t give themselves a lot of room for error, and all three tunes in this are absolute bangers. The lesson is clear: trim the fat, keep only the winners. Another important step: write insanely hooky pop melodies. Don’t let a moment go by where you’re not introducing a sonic element that burrows its way into listeners’ subconscious and compels them to play the song back immediately after it’s done. This may feel like a no-brainer, but you have no idea how many people forget to do it.
When it comes time to consider the actual tonal color of the album, go for the flowery stuff. Splashes of synth, swirly guitar arpeggios, maybe a few backwards keyboard parts for good measure. Cover everything in a hazy glaze of sweetness; swells of dreamy and elaborate backing vocals accomplish this very well (see the chorus to “Ya Fue” for a great example). Stay away from harshness and dissonance; these things have their place, of course, but they don’t quite jive with the vibe we’re creating here. This is all dusted-petal pretty. And if you feel like your opening two songs are a little too studio-slick, close things out with a live feel, with a song that brings reggae elements to Andean folk melodies. And throw in a melodica for good measure. Moy did really well for themselves with their debut EP — we can’t wait to see what they do next.