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Written by the La La Lista Music Writers staff: Evy Duskey, Jorge Farah, Jamie Larson, Emilyann McKelvey, Ezequiel Mancilla, Pablo Pérez, Julián Alejo Sosa, Margaux Williams.
Just about a year ago, on our year-end recap video, we looked back on what had been one of the hardest years of our lives and wondered what 2021 had in store for us. We now know it wasn’t quite the triumphant return to normalcy that we were perhaps hoping for, but — as predicted — Argentina’s musical output continued to delight and inspire us throughout the year.
Below, the La La Lista music writers lay out our picks for best local albums of 2021. And yes, we are defining “local” as Argentina as a whole; and yes, our definition of “album” includes EPs and LPs, a distinction that continues feeling sillier and sillier as years go by.
We’re feeling optimistic about the road ahead, and we can’t wait to see the ways in which this country’s cultural output continues to dazzle us. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you all in 2022.
Agathe Cipres – Los Límites
French-born Agathe Cipres has released one of the most exciting and unique EPs in recent memory with Los Límites, a piece of work that is as thrilling as it is immensely rewarding. As tends to be the case with most great records, the opener is immediately compelling: “Presa” goes hard in both the songwriting structure and the production quality. The song starts with a pulsating synth arpeggio in a very 80s synthwave style and builds in ever-growing tension as Agathe’s voice playfully bounces around the walls of ambient guitar swells. The buildup comes to a blissful and expansive climax where a mix of layered trumpets and effect pads explode while a booming, sluggish drumbeat seals the deal.
There’s loads of little touches like this for those who love to indulge in active listening scattered throughout the entire album. Los Límites is a very physical experience, and one that rewards repeated listens, as the album (which had already left a memorable first impression) continues to reveal more layers to the attentive listener. Make sure to check out our recent interview and artist profile of Agathe Cipres here.
Axel Xavier – Autosabotage
Axel Xavier was featured in our magazine not too long ago in relation to his visual art endeavors, but graphic design wasn’t all he got up to this year. When his mother died in January, Axel was left an orphan at 21, with guilt, resentment, regrets, unresolved trauma, family responsibilities, and the curse of inter-generational poverty weighing heavy on his shoulders. He took that weight and deposited into Autosabotage, his debut EP, which consists of five raw, unfiltered, heartbreakingly inspiring songs, written all in one sitting, and recorded all in one afternoon with the help of a few close friends (recorded and mixed by Tomás Pojaghi, banjo played by Cobcris, and backup vocals sung by Emily And). The album embodies a spectrum on which self-doubt, self-hate, self-castigation, self-forgiveness, self-love, and self-acceptance all coexist amidst a whirlwind of thoughts, questions, emotions, and memories. It reaffirms a conviction to continuously escape from the prison of the ego-mind, and leave behind the fear and confusion that it breeds. It deals with healing, facing up to shadows, communicating with divine entities, existing multiplicitously.
Sonically and lyrically, influences such as lo-fi singer songwriter Daniel Johnston (Axel’s Hi, How Are You tattoo is visible on his right arm in the album cover) and emo folk-punk group The Frontbottoms are undeniably evident in Autosabotage. Another curious aspect of the album is that four of the five songs are written in English, a language that Axel never studied, but claims to have acquired through a sort of cultural osmosis. His use of the language is exceptionally natural-sounding, while peppered with creative and innovative idiosyncrasies which, far from sounding “odd,” are refreshing and delightful to the native English ear (confirmed by the native English speakers here at La La Lista). Case in point, the name of the album itself, which is a sort of hybrid incarnation of the Spanish word autosabotaje, and the English word self-sabotage, which may or may not cancel each other out in an abstract sort of revindication of the true self, the higher self, the forgiven self – that’s Axel Xavier’s Autosabotage.
Bele – Desaparezco
Bele first caught our attention with her song “Todas las Raíces,” a single off her debut album Desparezco. And that song’s thrilling mix of disparate sonic elements turned out to be a great representation of an album that mixes such a wide array of sounds to create a thoroughly unique listening experience. Desaparezco features layers upon layers of swelling vocals singing haunting vocal melodies, interesting percussive sounds, as well as synthetic sounds and discordant pianos. A royal flush of hypnotizing dark synths, layered with creeping bass and a thrilling sense of foreboding throughout.
This may be Bele’s first foray into releasing music, but the maturity on display betrays a seasoned musician who treats each creation like a refined recipe, with each intricate part creating a flavorsome dish. The sparse instrumentation during the verses leaves you yearning for more, making the impact of each component all the more exciting when combined with lyrically simplistic phrasing. This strange concoction makes Desaparezco one of the most interesting albums we’ve heard in quite some time.
Belun – El Fin De La Comedia
Cordoba native Belun, a singer-songwriter and producer who’d collaborated with several artists from the local scene, released his debut album El Fin De La Comedia in 2021; the album is a wonderful smattering of funk, indie rock, neo-soul and synth-pop sounds. Rarely does it linger long enough on a specific aesthetic to comfortably qualify it as such. And it’s all the stronger for it.
Featuring collaborations with artists such as GULI and Mateo Morandin, Belun delivers an incredible and invigorating album that is a thrill to listen to from start to finish. From the 90s indie-rock sound of opener “No Soy Tuyo” to the synthy early-aughts hook of “Quemas,” the album is 22 minutes of hooks and ear-candy.
BILOBA – El Pulso de los Días
The singer-songwriter is, first and foremost, a poet; and the poet, first and foremost, is a philosopher. They harvest the metaphors and symbols that are constantly swirling about, synthesizing and channeling them into something that makes us feel or recognize one or another aspect of our humanity. In this respect, El Pulso de los Días, the debut LP by singer-songwriter BILOBA, brings us a proposal that is both broad and deep. Throughout the 7 tracks that make up the album, she presents us with questions and wisdom from a place of self-discovery, deconstruction and reconstruction of ideas and identities both new and old, changeful and constant, internal, external, eternal, and fleeting; the cyclical casting away of and re-encounter with illusion.
In this album, we hear BILOBA (Lulú Tetelbaum) accompanied by her band with deceptively simple arrangements, and a sound that spans from a soft and gentle folk with hints of bossa nova (like in “Gente”) to a darker and heavier sound with elements of grunge and punk (like in “Días compartidos). The vocal counterpoints in the background are reminiscent of the early works of Joni Mitchell, and we can also hear the artistic influence of contemporary singer-songwriters of the local scene, such as Maria Pien, Lucila Pivetta, and Daiana Leonelli. A strong entrance by this dextrous and dynamic artist.
Carolina Donati – Arde
There are few things more gratifying than watching an artist evolve over time. When Carolina Donati first emerged on the scene, she was decidedly an acoustic-based, folk-leaning singer-songwriter. But we’ve happily watched her expand her sonic palette over the last few years, starting with her contribution to a Micro Discos compilation and continuing through her debut LP Lo Que Quedó. Her latest record and second full-length album Arde is a continuation of that trend and a beautiful showcase of Donati’s strengths as a songwriter — namely, her killer instincts for lilting, singable pop melodies that propel every track forward, regardless of what genre she decides to lean into.
From indie pop to neo-soul, Donati explores the idea of what love is really all about, beginning with catchy synth pop album opener “Culpable,” (featuring Jazmín Esquivel) and finally winding down with the faux steel-string warbling of “Lo Que Viene Después” Other standout tracks include the Santo & Johnny-esque waltz of the album’s namesake, “Otra Vez” (which brings to mind Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” in the best possible way) and the hushed El Mató tones of “Que Raro Es Este Lugar.”
Chacón Durañona Montes – Alto Gato
Chacón Durañona Montes is a jazz fusion power trio made up of Julián Montes (bass), Augusto Durañona (keyboard) and Juan Chacón (drums). They’re not just another jazz fusion band, but a project that seeks to break the barriers within the genre. They transmit a very particular energy that reminds us, in a way, of a nu-metal band adapted to the language of jazz, where the harmonic and rhythmic versatility takes the lead. In regards to the mix, the EP has a spotless sound clarity thanks to the work of Jonathan Vainberg. We’d like to highlight the sound design of the bass, since its growl and the place it takes up in the mix adds significantly to the energy of the EP.
Even though this release is mostly instrumental, they did not hesitate to go for more and added a rap section by Montes. “Que se joda la pandemia, a distancia o como sea, no nos paró la histeria” (“Fuck the pandemic, remotely or by any means, hysteria couldn’t stop us”) he raps in the EP’s only song with lead vocals, “C D M.” A war cry to the challenges that the global situation brought to light for the music scene. We highly recommend you watch the live session for La Sala here, where the organic dynamic between the band members is on full display.
Cirilo Fernández – I K E
If you like intricate chords, harmonies that make you move the head to the side like a confused pupper, and drum beats that accentuate in the least expected places while still managing to make you dance, this album is for you. Cirilo Fernandez has a great history with 3 albums released with Fernandez 4, a renowned group in the jazz/rock/whatever scene. As expected, this album delivers the same quality of his previous works. Besides, artists like Emmanuel Horvilleur, Julián Kartún, Julieta Rada, An Espil, among others, put their voice to this adventure of jazz, rock and, yes, you guessed it, whatever.
I K E is an album where all the instruments equally are the protagonists of this journey, since all of them have something interesting to say, and without any doubt a very enjoyable trip on the musical side. Keep an eye out (or, I guess, an ear open) during the song “DETA” which features vocals by An Espil, and see where the infamous “lick” pops up.
Clara Lambertucci, Tomi Porcelli & Matías Mendez – Era
Era by Clara Lambertucci, Tomi Porcelli and Matías Mendez (ex-De Menta) is a wistful reflection on the past and a showcase of fiery ambition towards the future all packed into a 29-minute album. One can immediately pick up on the mutated sounds of Argentine prog rock from the 70s like Spinetta’s Invisible and Charly Garcia’s La Maquina de Hacer Pájaros with a whole new spin. Tracks like “Algo Que Ilumine” are a set example of that. Other songs such as “Mariana” are just an amazing showcase of musicianship, with open-sounding chords, synth soundscapes, and an amazing slight chord structure change near the end that elevates it even higher. A personal favorite is “Volcán” a song I’d heard in its guitar live version that flourished into a -dare I say tango-esque rushed ballad that is permeated by an ever-increasing feel of tension that gives us short respites during its solemn piano bridges but finally erupts during the final solo. Courtesy of Piel Reloj.
What’s also pretty interesting about the album is how it sort of works as a canvas to express the act of building an album that just won’t really be toured at all. They are what you could call one-and-doners. That directly translates to the subject matter in its songs: Era’s lyrics talk about the band and how they no longer even can find a name to call themselves. It’s a beautiful exploration of abandonment and reconciliation with the artistic process and who doesn’t like it when the curtains let you peek inside a little bit?
DJs Pareja & Lupe – Nuestra Forma
We love a good collaboration, and it’s lucky that these next two albums are collaborations that were alphabetically aligned. In this case, the duo of Diego Irasusta and Mariano Caloso (better known to the Argentine electronic music as DJs Pareja) decided to join forces with singer Lucía Pejuskovic (better known as Lupe) after following each other on social media. The pair caught wind of Lupe after the release of her debut album, and they were immediately impressed by the young artist’s talent and creative vision. Soon after following each other, the DMs started to fly.
And the end result is Nuestra Forma, an excellent EP that showcases both artists’ particular talents. With kinetic techno beats that make clever use of found media, and Lupe’s voice taken to new degrees of etherealness by virtue of being heavily processed, Nuestra Forma is an album that feels vibrant and forward-thinking. It is a thrilling collection that would not have existed were it not for the power of social media. Just for today, we’ll say… thanks, Zuckerberg!
Damsel Talk & Nicolás Boccanera – Peppermint
British performer Jennifer Moule — better known by her theatrical / jazz vamp persona Damsel Talk — has been thrilling audiences with her elegantly unrelenting strangeness for several years. And while her sound has gone through various iterations — from the folk-and-soul inspired songs of her 2017 Fe Fi Fo Fum EP to the more lushly orchestrated jazz exploration of 2019’s Darling Darling and Other Stories — she’s never sounded quite as in control as she does in Peppermint, her new collaboration with pianist Nicolás Boccanera.
Boccanera, a tremendous talented jazz pianist, is as involved in the creation of the poignant, often disquieting, always profoundly tuneful story-songs that make up Peppermint. From the stately, Bach-inspired piano composition of “When You Love Rancho” (which gives way to one of Moule’s most visceral vocal runs, turning from an full-throated and accusatory tone into a series of squeaks and gurgles) to the dissonant jam at the end of “You Are a Chaos” and the whiskey-soaked jazz ballad “Sonnet 147,” there really is no telling where this album will go next, and that is very much one of its key strengths.
Deportivo Alemán – Negroless
Except for the title track, all of the songs on Deportivo Alemán’s Negroless EP have numbers for titles. Oddly enough, it seems fitting for a band whose name makes reference to a country that is often synonymous with efficiency and precision. No frills or adornments of any type, just numbers. Let the music speak for itself. I think it’s not a coincidence that the song titles make reference to the twenties—a feeling of longing and nostalgia permeates the entire EP, i.e. the yearning for those formative years when we were all naively trying to figure things out while slowly losing our innocence.
From the entrancing drum loop of opener “Veintitres” and the slow-burning “Negroless” to the gothic synthpop of “Veinticuatro” and the straight-out krautrock burst of “Veinticinco,” the Temperley natives take us on a musical journey that feels like a rite of passage in itself. A rewarding listen, Negroless also feels like an exercise in style in which the band effortlessly navigates through a plethora of genres, only to disappear into the ether after the album closer “Veintiseis” and its cascading guitars.
El Doctor – FAFA
Despite having a track record of almost two decades in the underground music scene, and a cult following of die-hard fans, El Doctor, also known as “el más real” (the realest), has been repeatedly pushed to the margins of the national scene. Those who truly pick up what he’s putting down, would die on a hill defending his artistry. (We are the 1%.) And those who just don’t get it, or aren’t ready to set aside their snap judgements, well, their reactions to his music range on a spectrum from amused, to confused, offended, or downright disgusted. But we wouldn’t have him any other way. El Doctor, a thoroughly punk-ass rapper and the pioneer of drill (a subgenre of trap known for its dark, hardcore, punky vibe and violent, ominous lyrics) in Argentina, brings us FAFA, an album made with the participation of 16 different producers and 7 featured artists, consisting of 15 hard-hitting tracks with primarily improvised lyrics, ranging from rap, to trap, to rock, as well several more ballad-like tracks that showcase the artist’s more sensitive side.
A long time coming, several of these songs date back 4 or 5 years, to the era in which El Doctor first gained notoriety when his song “30 mil pe$os” went viral on YouTube. El Doctor’s one-of-a-kind lyrical genius weaves together the anger and exhaustion of living under systemic repression and discrimination, with themes of drugs, sex, guns, suicidal ideation, and the crudest and most vulgar realities of poverty and gang life into poetry with a message of perseverance, loyalty, honesty, authenticity, unity, originality, courage, and above all, love – embodying the inspiring truth that your circumstances and surroundings don’t define who you are, and don’t define what you have to offer the world.
Emily And – Spilling the Porotos
Immensely prolific singer-songwriter Emily And surprised us with the release of her latest album Spilling the Porotos. Though we are no strangers to Emily And’s music, this album is perhaps her most ambitious and laser-focused effort to date and it offers a deft change of pace in her sound. While there’s no shortage of certified pop bangers like “Flasheando Amor” and “Hay Universos Que Son Solo Para Vos,” Emily And goes off the beaten path with atmospheric tracks such as “If You Don’t, I Won’t” or the fierce and unexpectedly abrasive “El Gato Muerto (la re vivió)”.
The album’s key strength lies in how sincere it is. We get a glimpse into Emily And’s most personal struggles, her shortcomings as well as her strengths (ie. “Ojalá”) with openness. In terms of sound, Spilling the Porotos pushes the envelope of what bedroom pop can be and it elevates it into a whole different genre with elements of punk rock, jangle pop, and even some synth-pop sections. It’s refreshing and invigorating to see artists put a new spin on traditional pop conventions: I cherish both the extremely catchy melodies that I find myself humming on my own as well as the risky and melodically bemusing sections of this adventure of an LP.
Fervors – Grey Age
Argentinian/American dream-pop outfit Fervors is back with Grey Age, the follow-up to their 2018 EP Ortúzar. And though it inhabits roughly the same aesthetic space as their last outing, and continues in its exploration of the cross-section between etherealness and murkiness, so much of this record feels like more. More intensity, more melodicism, more catchiness, more ornateness, but also more rawness. On opening track “Looking Glass,” there’s a sense of urgency and grit absent from the band’s earlier work, with singer Evy Duskey sounding like she’s shaking with barely controlled rage as she delivers the song’s rapid-fire tumble of lyrics.
Title track “Grey Age” is probably the poppiest song this band has written, and true to their off-kilter tendencies, it’s in 6/4 time and features a math-rock-sounding pull-off-y guitar hook. The slinky “Eyes On Me” sounds like something that Radiohead might’ve come up with during the recording of In Rainbows, but would probably set aside on account of it being “too pretty.” And the closer “Canyons” reaches heights of emotional intensity that the band had only hinted at before; by the end of the tune, you feel like you have to take a minute to shake it off if you have any hope of continuing on with your work day.
Fransia – Mundo Virtual
In the lead-up to the release of Fransia‘s sophomore album Mundo Virtual, the group released a series of videos featuring band member Francisca Moreno Quintana explaining a series of philosophical and spiritual concept that, truth be told, remind us a little of that one viral TikTok video. Each video corresponds to one of the eight songs in the album, expanding on its topic and providing some interesting context for their thematic exploration.
However, no explanation is needed for the barrage of pop hooks and sonically sugary arrangements on display in Mundo Virtual, an album that sounds like a Greatest Hits compilation by a band that’s been around for over a decade. From the four-on-the-floor pop of “Amor Perfecto,” the silky-smooth after-party slow-jam of “Perder Todo,” to the parade of melodies in the CHVRCHES-reminiscent closer “Todo Me Da Vueltas,” this is a rich, layered, and deeply compelling synthpop album. It deals with some weighty topics, but it also wants to make you dance.
Gativideo – BOUTIQUE
Here’s a bold claim: Gativideo is easily the most fun band in Buenos Aires. The group dominates the studio and the stage with a swagger full of disco vibes while epitomizing some of the key elements of the japanese genre of “city pop,” especially in their latest album BOUTIQUE. The music is energetic at every point with stupidly addictive synth lines, beautiful voices beckoning your listening ear, toe-tapping percussion lines, and an surplus of joy throughout.
“On Point” opens the album with such energy that it left me wondering how they could simply go any higher. The record is beautifully curated, next jumping into “Plutón” which brings lush pads and filthy basslines amongst the driving breakdowns with a stripped beat. One of the strangest tracks but is easily one of my favourites is “Cine Shampoo,” a track is that is just impossible to describe. It starts off with a sort of wash-board twangy bluegrass sounding guitar dominating the first verse before jumping into a psychedelic-disco extravaganza in the chorus. Just a few of the highlights packed into this incredible album.
Gladyson Panther – Pop del Futuro y del Presente
The ambitious third album by Gladyson Panther wastes no time making it very clear that things are going to be a little different this time around. Gone are the arpeggiated indie-guitar riffs and the messy, live-in-the-room drum sounds. Instead, we are greeted with the deeper-than-deep sound of an 808, followed shortly by the singer accepting a beverage and taking a drink right before launching into a rap verse. It’s not long before we’re into the wavey vibe of “El Que Dice La Verdad,” or the trash-talk trap of “Copypaste” (a scorching take-down of the 2021 version of payola and how it can drown out artistic originality).
The startling hyper-pop of “Te Vi y No Te Salude,” the progression from etherealness to brutal distortion in “Melancolía del Futuro,” and the slow-motion dembow of “Zendaya” (which serves as the album’s quasi-title track), Pop del Futuro y del Presente is a fascinating exploration of the possibilities of the urban music aesthetic when mixed with elements of ambient, shoegaze, hyperpop, and even dubstep. It sounds like a young artist playing around with the form, and just like other albums of that ilk, it’s fascinating to listen to.
Javi Punga – El Último Primer Día
The ninth entry in the collaborative El Club del Low-Fi album series, Javi Punga‘s new release El Último Primer Día roars, fizzles, and cracks with an urgency that feels portentous of the bizarre times we live in. It somehow manages to feel thoroughly lived-in as well as startlingly timely. “Covid Surf,” a song we highlighted as one of our favorite releases from September, manages to successfully approximate the sensation of bouncing around a sweaty moshpit, even while you’re listening to it from the confines of your air-conditioned room. “Bedroom Grunge” features an overdriven riff big enough to make Mudhoney themselves blush. And the valvular “City Pop” is recorded so loud that you can practically feel the thick gauge strings about to snap.
The vocals are deliberately obscured throughout, and the listener only catches every other word, leaving you with only a vague impression of what each song is actually about. It’s messy, it’s abrasive, and it’s all the better for it.
Jazmín Esquivel – Medianoche Radio Club
If ever there an album title that perfectly captured the vibe and sound of the music therein, Jazmín Esquivel’s sophomore effort Medianoche Radio Club is it. A collection of silky-smooth, darkly alluring tunes with a real after-hours feel, the songs dealing with desire, relationship dynamics, and the ups-and-downs of a night out where lines get blurred and allegiances keep changing as the evening progresses. A sharp left turn from the singer’s previous album Púrpura — which also made it to our list of favorite albums of 2018 — Medianoche Radio Club is filled with excellent tracks featuring thoughtful arrangements aligned with the album’s thematic core.
“No Puedo Volver” is a tense tune dripping with anxiety and anticipation, gradually evoling into a rolling tumble of syllables and layered vocal lines. “Todos Quieren Algo de Mi” functions in a similar way, building from an evocative synth line to a multi-layered explosion of rhythms and melodies. “El Chico de la Película” is a more straightforward (but just as effective) slice of synth-pop. “Una Mierda” sounds like a pair of boxers circling each other in a ring before jumping into a brawl. There’s a lot to dig into in this masterful album that very skillfully avoids the “sophomore slump” by going a different direction entirely.
Juan Bayon – Silencio Ensordecedor
Because of music’s unique ability to put the listener in a specific emotional space, it works tremendously as a marker of the artist’s own life — an emotional snapshot, if you will, of the period when they crafted the music. In this sense, Juan Bayon’s Silencio Ensordecedor works as a time capsule of a very specific time in Bayon’s life — the period between the birth of his son in late 2019 and the passing of his father in early 2021. This was the period when Bayon composed the songs in the album, and that feeling of poignancy runs through the compositions.
But of course, music doesn’t just serve to describe the author’s own experience — every album is part of a wider whole, and serves to comment on (and advance) the musical scene it is part of. As such, Silencio Ensordecedor also serves as a snapshot of the current state of Argentine jazz. From the 7/4 jaunt of “Poetas Menores” to the gorgeous, dynamic, and contemplative two-parter “Tres Fresnos Dorados,” all the way to the stark album closer (a contrabass-only reprise of “23 de Agosto”) Silencio Ensordecedor is a richly rewarding listening experience by a master of his trade.
La Piba Berreta – Golpe de (M)suerte
When a band member makes the jump to solo artist, it’s always interesting to see which direction they go. Do they take a sharp left turn away from the sound of their former group? Or do they double down on the sensibilities that made them notable in the first place? In the case of La Piba Berreta, formerly of Los Rusos Hijos de Puta, the answer is that she somehow manages to do both. Her album Golpe de (M)suerte is a 10-song dash through whimsy and riotous noise, at times aggressively dissonant and at others undeniably playful.
In our interview with her, La Piba Berreta exolained Golpe de (M)suerte is a kind of concept album about her own perception of self. With its wild shifts in tone and colorful lyrics, it makes perfect sense in that role. Slightly atonal and relentlessly upbeat, the album as a whole is perfect for making noodle arms while racing your bike through the near-empty streets right before curfew every night.
Mariana Michi – Hijo de Campeones
Is there anything more exhilarating than hearing an artist fully engage with their more playful impulses with total abandon? When accompanied by raw talent and a tasteful ear, the results can be nothing short of revelatory. This is the case for Hijo de Campeones, which plays with breaking previous held patterns and traditions in more ways than one. Eschewing her previous guitar-led compositions for synths and programmed drums, Michi’s songwriting here is more alive and vibrant than ever.
Kicking off with the distorted guitar riff of “Ilusion Tauro”, Michi duels between idealization and self-reckoning, with a touch of the ominous. This is followed by the the arpeggiated synths of “No Sentir Nada” an oddly hooky song of resolution, reflecting on the bittersweet relief of healing post-break up: “la angustia se alivió / pero se siente tan raro / no sentir nada.” The cacophony of electronic horns and synthetic sounds on “New Age” accompanies Michi at her most impish, with the distorted chorus of “respira – acepta!” turning the mantra on its head. Who said that evolution had to be stodgy, anyway?
But the catchy twists and turns don’t end with the singles. A fruitful collaboration with Rocío Itarrualde gives us the funky disco banger of “Enero” – the kind of song you could imagine dancing on the beach to in a late 00s music video…in the best way possible. “ENTRE ROSAS” continues this retro trend, with the hand claps and mic’d laughs feeling like a more sophisticated Timberland production: think “bringing sexy back” – but make it weird. The album embraces this gleeful strangeness til the end, with “Borracheira”’s staggered, stilted guitar loop, distorted vocals and trap-esque beats reminding us that this is her show, and we’re just along for the ride. Fine by us – where do we sign up for the next one?
Medalla Milagrosa – Onda Mental
The bar was pretty high after Medalla Milagrosa’s debut full-length, 2018’s Fantasía Peligro, but the dream pop five-piece somehow managed to take things one step further with their sophomore effort Onda Mental. Produced by post-rock savant Ignacio Castillo, the album plays off like an augmented reality version of their earlier catalog, homing in on the reverb-laden textures and melodies that helped define their sound. Even if it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it’s always fascinating to watch a band evolve. And Onda Mental is the sound of a band at the peak of their powers.
Melanie Williams & El Cabloide – Somos 2
The follow-up to 2019’s Comprensión1, Melanie Williams & El Cabloide‘s Somos 2 continues the group’s interest in finding the common places between ethereal sounds and funky jams. This much is evident in album opener “Mikelbjork,” which kicks things off with rich, warm cascades of arpeggiated guitar, the first movement is a kaleidoscopic river of jazz-funk molasses with just enough string-bending pop hooks to keep things grounded. The groove continues for two minutes before it is gently interrupted with a sampled Bjork interview where the famous pop musician muses about Christmas and Iceland. Things pick up again with the raucous outro, where Melanie’s vocals bring it all back home, backed by a wall of jammy guitars and dancey drums.
The rest of the album is just as interesting, with the rhythmic exploration taken further in “Denadie,” which moves from a Motown beat to an almost-chiptune breakdown. The title track puts the group’s propensity for jamming on full display, with a bassline that can hardly be contained by the song’s harmonic contours. Vocal samples, staccato chords, and a healthy amount of reverb make this album a perfect wind-down experience.
Milagros Majó – Füryü
Milagros Majó burst into our radar with the song “En Los Bosques de Álamos Plateados,” one of the most beautiful tunes to come out of the local scene in recent memory. The accompanying album, Füryü, was released this year. Thankfully, it does not disappoint, living up to the lofty standard set by the aforementioned track. In fact, we’d dare say the album surpasses expectations by incorporating even more sounds from a wide array of genres, all anchored by the album’s cinematic production and Majó’s expressive vocals.
Among the collection of songs that exist in the space between otherworldlyness and rootsy folk is “Ópalos,” which continues Majó’s exploration of nature as muse and metaphorical device. This gorgeous composition is driven home by an ethereal instrumental backing and Majó’s uncanny ability to convey emotion with her vocal performance. “Cielo Claro” is an utterly unique track that takes you on a sonic and emotional journey; and “Kyanos,” a lullaby driven by African instrumentation, is completely unlike anything else we’ve ever heard. Make sure to check out our in-depth interview with this utterly unique talent.
Pasajero Luminoso – Pujol
Sometimes we find albums that exist in a nebulous space between initial releases, when they were first unveiled to the world in one format one year and then a different format the next. Such is the case with instrumental group Pasajero Luminoso and their most recent release, Pujol. From what we can tell, it was initially released digitally in late 2020, then released physically in early 2021, and finally made it to most streaming platforms in April. Regardless, we’re treating this excellent album as a 2021 release.
The quartet works with an assortment of sounds that have strong tinges of local chacarera, tango, rock and jazz. “Bizcochuelo Maravilla” is the first song of the album and serves as a great introduction to the band, not only because it has an amazing name, but also because of its aesthetic. The song starts with a clean guitar that sets the tone, with a drum and a piano joining the mix, while the bass takes the lead and delivers a melody on which the rest of the song will continue to develop. It progresses until they present us with two exquisite piano and guitar solos. The rest of the album is just as interesting, playing with shapes and textures in a way that is utterly mesmerizing to the listener.
Paula Trama – En Vivo en el Xirgu
Paula Trama has made it her specialty to explore raw emotional truths in song, and her band Los Besos have long been deployed as an effective tool to explore them. When we heard that she’d be releasing an album consisting of quiet, intimate live performances from her catalogue, we were thrilled. The resulting collection, En Vivo en el Xirgu, is everything we could have wanted and more. Trama strips these songs down to their core and presents them unadorned and uncluttered, just vocals and piano.
She applies this format to songs from her various projects, including collaborations such as “Los Días Que No Estás” from Barbi Recanati’s Ubicación en Tiempo Real. Songs like the plaintive “Helados Verdes,” already a gorgeously melodic collection of mementos, take on a whole new poignancy in this bare-bones presentation. En Vivo en el Xirgu is a great example of a “mood album”, and a fantastic collection of performances by one of the greatest songwriters in the local music scene.
Pequeño Bambi – Pequeño Bambi
Pequeño Bambi may have just released their very first full-length album, but the group has actually existed in various incarnations over 16 years. The ferocious five-piece brings a unique blend of punk rock energy with a theatricality and exuberant youthfulness that is more than refreshing. Their debut self-titled full-length album, released by Goza Records, opens with a punkified and gleefully confrontational cover of Alaska y Dinarama’s 80s hit “A Quien Le Importa,” setting the tone for the rest of the album.
Yes, this album is comprised of punk rock covers of various radio hits. But no, this is no Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The group infuses a righteous punk rock anger into every one of their covers. For instance, take track two, their thrilling cover of Jeanette’s 70s pop radio staple “Por Que Te Vas.” Alternating between vaguely ska-tinged verses and power-chord chug-along choruses, the group manages to turn the song into an absolute rave-up while maintaining the vulnerable prettiness of its plaintive melody. One for the mosh pit.
Rudo – La Nueva Suavidad
As the frontman for beloved indie-rock group ChauCoco!, Rodrigo Ruiz Díaz had a hand in crafting some of the most memorably hooky tunes in Argentine rock. Out on his own now as a solo artist, his sound as Rudo is both more accessible and somehow more obscure than ever, with glitchy sound effects and distortion often cutting through the glossy pop sound to make it darker and weirder. Witness “Ahora Que Nos Duele,” for instance, my personal favorite song on the album; at times it sounds like a Prince tune, an unabashedly catchy, breathlessly performed funk-pop jam. But all throughout, there’s an octave harmonizer effect on Ruiz Díaz’s voice, giving it a darker, decidedly inhuman touch (of course, Prince himself was no stranger to applying effects to his voice to make it a lot weirder).
There’s many touches like that scattered throughout La Nueva Suavidad, where production effects are applied to amp up a song’s slightly otherworldly sound. The songs themselves are strong enough to withstand it, anchored by Ruiz Díaz’s witty, tuneful songwriting and vocal performances. La Nueva Suavidad is a fantastic debut album by an important voice in the local independent scene. We’re glad to have him back.
Telefonema – Mitad Metade
We love Telefonema for the compelling darkness of their sound; for the way they weave abstract imagery into the labyrinthian soundscapes they create with each song; for their use of post-punk tropes as elements to distort and destroy in order to create something new, rather than as a template to stay confined to. Their darkness feels earned and sincere in a way that eludes many artists of the genre. The emotional spaces they craft feel genuinely hazy, not just clouded with a smoke machine.
The synth-pop duo’s latest album Mitad Metade is a great distillation of what makes them compelling, while also serving as another step forward in their musical evolution. After the duo toured through Brazil, their return to Argentina coincided with the advent of social isolation; they ended up drawing inspiration from the sights they saw on tour as well as the feelings of uncertainty and dread that dominated everyone’s thoughts during the harshest months of the pandemic. Songs like the smooth “Leme” and the anxiety-ridden “El Nuevo Arte” give an idea of the broad range of sounds present on this excellent outing by the group.
Willy Fishman – ¡Guachi Guau!
Earlier in this list we sang the praises of larger-than-life pop-disco group Gativideo. One of the band’s members — co-founder, singer, guitarist and writing talent Willy Fishman — took the time to continue the momentum and side-step with his own solo project, the result of which is the explosive ¡Guachi Guau!. It certainly feels like after years of honing and crafting his writing Fishman has used this album as an opportunity to explore and venture into crazier and more chaotic themes while still providing a playful and fun experience for the listener at every turn with production value reminiscent of the works of the late Andrew Weatherall.
Layers upon layers of perfectly timed samples drop providing each track with surprises, with sometimes ambiguous sources making it a sort of scavenger hunt. Meanwhile, Fishman sprinkles his voice throughout tracks without forcing it to the forefront but rather using it as another melodic instrument to build from the foundation of each individual track. The album makes colorful use of stereo panning to great effect, especially during the beginning of “Sticker de la Amistad,” with the wave crashing intro smoothly transitioning into beats, synth, and scratching screaming 90s revival trip-hop. Also, there is something to be said about the structure and album layout with, “Dale Rosca al Tocadiscos!” kicking off with such gusto that it is like taking 3 tequila shots to start off your night setting the mood for the rest of the evening, with “Volverte a Ver” being the taxi ride home while you take in the evenings events, offering the perfect close for easily one of our favorite releases of the year.