Para leer la versión en español de este artículo, hacé clic acá.
Few things are as daunting as trying to familiarize yourself with a brand new scene, especially one that’s as sprawling and eclectic as the Argentine music sphere. It’s tough. There are so many subsets, so many labels, so many new names, so many cliques. It’s almost enough to make you want to give up and retreat back to your old favorites. Do I even need to listen to new music when The Cure has already released 13 perfect albums?
Sometimes all you need is a way in. A guiding light to shine your way as you take your first tentative steps into murky waters. And sometimes, that guiding light can be a simple comparison: if you like ___, listen to ___. Those of us who are from other countries and have found ourselves overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of Argentina’s musical ecosystem have surely benefited from a friendly recommendation framed around our familiarity with an international act. Whether you’re a hapless foreigner trying to get acquainted with the local scene like a tourist fumbling with an upside-down map, or you’re a local who wants to listen to new artists from your own hood, we could all use some direction.
The La La Lista music writers have put together this handy list of comparisons to get you started on some of our favorite local artists. We’ve also included a playlist with selections from both sets of artists for you to sample (find it on the right hand sidebar on the desktop version of the site, bottom of the page on the mobile version). This is the first post in a series, so if you’re going crazy thinking of a great example you can’t believe we missed, hit us up.
One thing that’s very important for us is to point out is these are not 1:1 comparisons. We are not saying that these local artists are “the Argentine version of” these international acts. That would be reductive, as well as a disservice to the originality and uniqueness of these artists we love. Instead, we simply maintain that if you’re attuned to certain sensibilities, you’ll enjoy what these local acts bring to the table. Even if they sometimes veer dramatically from their supposed counterparts.
With all that said, go forth and read, click, listen, and enjoy.
If you like Talking Heads, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Ween, listen to… Gente Conversando
There are few local bands that make us miss live music more than Gente Conversando. Funnily enough, they were also one of the last bands that several of us on staff saw live before quarantine started in March, when they returned to the site of their compelling live album Roseti en Vivo. The band was in their top form (as always), simultaneously precise and bombastic, tense yet laissez faire. For anyone who has seen Stop Making Sense, and considered the translation of Gente Conversando’s name for two seconds, the Talking Heads comparison is all but unavoidable.
We would add to that base comparison the sonic shape-shifting playfulness of Ween, while frontman Guillermo Masse’s channels both the tenderness of Destroyer and the quivering emotionality of CYHSY’s Alec Ounsworth.
If you like Regina Spektor, listen to… María Pien
The most striking similarity is their voices. There’s a certain dynamic register they share, the voice takes on a certain timbre. A clarity, you don’t hear the vibrato or the breath, just the note ringing straight and poignant. Maria’s instrument of choice is the guitar, and Regina’s the piano, but they both approach songwriting like storytelling, involving characters and making references to the sights and sounds of their respective cities. The logical comparison is between Malinalli and Regina’s albums Far and Begin to Hope (especially the more upbeat, pop-oriented songs like “On the Radio” and “Calculation”). But both artists have evolved aesthetically over time — if you listened to Una Película and Soviet Kitsch back to back, you wouldn’t hear much overlap.
Thematically, they delve into the spiritual and existential, but from different angles — Maria tends to opt for the lighter side while Regina strays further into the dark and demented.
If you like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Tame Impala, listen to… Bandalos Chinos
On the surface, it may seem like there isn’t too much connecting this group of powerhouse acts, but in reality they all are surfing the wave of funk-infused indie, electronica, and spacey synths. The floaty vocals serve as a cool and collected delivery system for sweet harmonies, bringing a chilled-out, effortless, and slightly psychedelic vibe to the danceable bangers. These bands are driven further by their strong rudiments, with displaced snares sneaking underneath thumping bass lines, resulting in pangs of uncontrollable head-nodding and toe-tapping. It’s enough to make even the most discerning wallflower hipster bust a move.
The musical equivalent of achieving a good sun-kissed tan. The best way to enjoy these bands is at your closest beach, with your closest friends, and a cooler full of beers. Let the day fly in a blissfully therapeutic journey of good vibes.
If you like Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, listen to… Loli Molina
Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers have a lot in common. Not only are they in a band together (the mighty Boygenius, with fellow singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus completing the trinity), but they each individually make music that is gorgeously introspective and unabashedly emotional. As part of a surge of female singer-songwriters that have been steadily rising in popularity over the last few years (including artists such as Dacus, Mitski, Soccer Mommy, Sydney Gish and many more) their music exhibits a startlingly naked vulnerability as well as a wry sense of self-awareness.
Loli Molina shares a lot of these characteristics, both in the aesthetic presentation of the songs (most of them stripped back but for tastefully-placed string flourishes, acoustic-based, with minimal rhythmic accompaniment, Molina’s voice front-and-center) and in the lyrical content (though Molina often takes a more metaphorical approach to her subjects, whereas Bridgers especially favors specificity). Molina’s songs also tend to be more compositionally intricate, with jazz voicings creeping in, as well as elements of Andean folk music. If breathtakingly beautiful songs, dusted-petal delicate arrangements, and disarmingly pretty vocals are your bag, check out Molina’s work. 2019’s Lo Azul Sobre Mí is one of our favorite albums in recent memory, and you should definitely be listening to it.
If you like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, listen to… El Lenguaje Como Obstáculo
ELCO (short for El Lenguaje Como Obstáculo) is one of those mysterious and elusive bands from the already mysterious and elusive argentine post-rock scene. They’ve been dormant for almost 4 years and only recently officially joined the Anomalia record label. Right off the bat, the comparison with post-rock giants Godspeed You! Black Emperor is clear: the soft cellos, the increasingly tense guitar crescendos that feel like a distant thundering storm, the deeply melancholic chord progressions. ELCO’s ominous and gargantuan walls of sounds are as effective as GY!BE’s own soundscapes in songs such as “Adonis Minos” off their debut record I – a track that could have easily been featured in GY!BE’s sophomore album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.
While shorter and considerably more direct, ELCO’s songs are a great introduction to Argentine post-rock for fans of GY!BE and genre enthusiasts alike.
If you like Cocteau Twins, listen to… Violenta Josefina
It’s the feeling you get when you listen to both of them. It’s the crashing drums and the swirling guitars and the vocals, tranquil and confidential at times, startlingly aggressive other times, sweeping in and out of the compositions like another instrument. It’s the dreamy, wordless vocalizations — background “ooh”s and “ahh”s in the case of Violenta Josefina, entire verses in the case of Cocteau Twins — transporting you temporarily to another plane of existence. It’s the crackle of distortion and the wail of feedback used as elements to color the song’s harmonic contours. It’s the constant search for beauty and truth by any means necessary. It’s that dang word, “ethereal,” slapped across the face of any artist who shoots for transcendence by way of loudness and pretty melodies. It’s that feeling of not really knowing what you’re listening to, but knowing that you like it, and knowing that you want more of it.
This isn’t a case of Violenta Josefina letting an influence poke through — the Venezuelan-born, Buenos Aires-based singer-songwriter wasn’t even aware of Elizabeth Fraser’s band before her debut solo album El Ejército del Aire was released. This is a sonic kinship that exists beyond either artist’s own consciousness. And it’s dope.
If you like Galaxie 500, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Beat Happening, and Guided By Voices, listen to… bands on the Laptra label
So this one might come as a no-brainer, since Laptra bands have always worn their influences on their sleeves — from Él Mató a un Policía Motorizado playing Jesus And The Mary Chain’s “Head On” at their early live shows to Las Ligas Menores paying tribute to Galaxie 500’s “Pictures” on their maxi-single Ni Una Canción and 107 Faunos’ quirky, earnest indie pop stylings à la Beat Happening, the parallels between the La Plata-based collective and many of the indie rock bands that dominated the underground music scene during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s are pretty evident for anyone who takes pride in being a total music nerd.
Favoring minimalistic song structures and fuzzed-out guitar sounds, and championing a refreshing less-is-more aesthetic, Laptra tapped into the Argentine collective unconscious and succeeded in translating the American DIY ethos into something that a large number of Argentine millennials could relate to, providing the future generations with an extensive repertoire of football chants to pick from. Kudos to them.
That’s our selection for the inaugural installment of our new series. We hope through these humble recommendations, you’re able to find some new favorites. And hey, if you feel up to it, you can find even more local goodness over at our Music section. We’ll see you there.