Tan Bajo, Dávila 666
In The Rec, Puerto Rico
by Pierre Lestruhaut
Sometimes it seems like it must really suck to be part of a “Latin” band. Look at the extremely tiny proportion of these bands that actually manages to cruise into the very coveted territory of prestigious blogs and webzines (the Pitchfork audience), and when they actually make it they always seem doomed to be compared to another band from the anglosphere. You can’t say El Guincho’s success didn’t appear to be propelled by writers wanting to find something similar to compare to the almighty Panda Bear. In the case of Dávila 666, a six piece band from Puerto Rico with an affection for visceral 60’s garage rock and lo-fi aesthetics, the shy attention they’ve had on these mediums has already earned them their share of “Puerto Rico’s answer to Black Lips”. Nothing that wouldn’t reinforce the idea that in Latin America everyone’s always moving under the shadow of what’s happening in the North.
In Tan Bajo, their second LP releaed through In the Red, the guys from Puerto Rico show nothing to get rid of that idea, in fact they had rarely sounded this much like a garage rock revival act. But this is also probably the album where Dávila 666 has finally managed to underline the difference between being a revival retro-rock act in the wrong place, and appearing as an out of time channel for dazzling rock songs and impossibly catchy hooks. Because even if their vastly discussed “Menudo on drugs” self-description sounds a lot more like a gimmick than anything else, Dávila’s approach to songwriting doesn’t differ significantly from that of the popular boy band. Take Menudo’s use of lyrical repetition and playful melodies in “Subete a Mi Moto” as a frivolous conduct for teenage love angst and compare it to Dávila’s abrasive yet very catchy mourns of “Esa Nena Nunca Regreso” and “Eso Que Me Haces” and you’ll see that structurally and lyrically they’re on a very similar page.
At the same time, even if Dávila 666 are not really concerned by leaving their comfort zone of catchy tunes wrapped up in a dirty atmosphere, they do manage to explore a lot of aspects of 60’s and 70’s rock while remaining true to that premise. You can easily recognize their affection for Spectorian girl bands with their effective use of backing vocals as both call-and-response verses and vocal harmony in “Yo Sería Otro”, not to mention how well their recurring stories of teenage torment fit with their more punk-inspired songs. In “Mala” and “Robacuna”, they seem to be adventuring themselves on the borders of musical gimmickry, stripping down their whole aesthetic to three-chord punk, one-liners and vocal hooks.
Phrases like “No te gusta que te toquen pues cabrona no provoques” or “Yo voy a darle algo y de seguro nunca se lo han dado” seem to fall somewhere between Los Punsetes’ vulgar rudeness and a less-explicit version of Residente’s most sexual lyrics, But it’s probably with the use vocal hooks where the band seems to have gained stature, particularly in “Noches de Terror”, a stunning 3 minutes built under the contradictions of having the suggestively frightening title sung over their catchiest riff followed by some haunting “aah aah’s”, all of it performed with childlike enthusiasm.
In the end, Tan Bajo is probably really far from being either a challenging or innovative record. We could question ourselves about why we’re valuing something that’s part of a niche interested in the recontextualizaton of rock as part of a new tradition, rather than in some forward-looking enhancement of this type of music that would be seemingly driving the genre somewhere. All we can say is sometimes you just can’t help yourself to admire the power and beauty of great timeless rock songs. A true celebration of irresistible hooks and riffs.
Tan Bajo, Dávila 666