Club Fonograma's Overlooked Albums of 2012

Matilda
Las acciones cotidianas
INDEPENDIENTE, ARGENTINA

Rosarian techno pop duo Matilda isn’t new to the scene. They’ve been crafting infectious tunes for over a decade, but it wasn't until their fourth album, Las acciones cotidianas, came out that they grabbed the attention of the international blogosphere. And it was about time their talent was widely applauded. Fortunately, this came along with one of the finest and most polished works in their enduring trajectory. Named after Jorge Luis Borges’ poem “Los justos,” Las acciones cotidianas is a collection of ten positive reflections to be plenty enjoyed. Fueled with positive vibes all the way, this is pop music with a message. Lead singer Juan Manuel Godoy invites the listener to self-analysis, causing awareness of our planet, the entities that get it moving, and, most of all, of our own beings. Musically, this is organic synth pop that would make Hot Chip proud. “Una nueva verdad” swirls over flashing beats and vivid strings, while “La prueba y el error,” as accurately pointed out by Bill Yonson, is reminiscent of Moenia circa Adición, and “Los anónimos” beautifully eludes Borges’ text in its lyrics. Packed with hits, the album’s biggest moment comes with the bombastic “Cuerpo y energía,” an overlooked pop gem on par with Javiera Mena’s or Alex Anwandter’s greatest club-infused numbers.  - Enrique Coyotzi



Jamez Manuel
Agua EP
NAAFI, MEXICO/CHILE

If you’re of the belief that contemporary Latin American hip-hop has reached a cul-de-sac of juvenile, innuendo-laden one-liners and re-hashed dembow beats, I beg you, download Jamez Manuel’s Agua EP. Then reconsider every notion you held of what Latin American hip hop, hell, of what pop music could be. Jamez Manuel delivers twenty-minutes of raw, dysphemistic verses that offers very little in the way of reservations. Yet even when exploring the darkest recesses of desire, Agua never looses its swagger. Fluid like its title, Manuel delivers every line with a commanding air of sophistication that seems all but lost in the trite work of his contemporaries. - Reuben Torres




Husky
Bambino
INDEPENDIENTE, MEXICO

A steady drum beat, a subtle three chord progression, some measured guitar strumming, and the line “You wanna say it’s a TV, it’s all you wanna say,” all seemingly repeated to death until...earth-shattering 15-second break. Husky’s narcotic fixation for an object like a television is anachronistic in itself, but by the time the new-wavey intro guitar line of “Easy Girl” kicks in, it’s hard to tell if they’re a misplaced rock band from Monterrey, something you found in your dad’s vinyl collection, or a band you came upon surfing through '80s one hit wonders on YouTube. I’ve had my doubts about Husky’s brand of deliberately brainless tunes many times—I'll seriously never be able to shut down my own skepticism for a band that sings about TVs, getting younger, summer, and girls, all the while surfing on an '80s revival that sounds at times like a polished Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and then like a guitar-infused version of Cut Copy. What’s more irritating, though, is that they’re actually really good at it. Their purpose at diving into rock revivalism feels as little innovative or forward-thinking as an old-timer garage obscurities compilation, but the fact they’ve decided to make this kind of tuneful rock in such an un-quirky, un-artsy manner, so uninterested in whatever’s musically going on around them (and giving the almighty hook the importance it so much deserves), that it makes Bambino (or at least its excellent first half) a round success for a band we didn’t think we’d end up liking this much. - Pierre Lestruhaut




Alejandro Paz
Free
CÓMEME, CHILE

Scientific research about apes has found how among certain species, beta males have a tendency to grow an erection while being around fertile females. Such betas will also hide their erections with their hands in the presence of an alpha male. If you read Carlos Reyes’ venereal year-end take on Alejandro Paz’s “Duro,” you’ll have figured we’re of the kind who think the Chilean producer was aiming at uninhibited phallic enhance and release. Biology lesson musical counterpart is, he does so in such life-affirming confidence and crude corporeality that the savage intimidation of an alpha could be looming on the beta house producers of the world.

His lyrical stuff may sound rather minimal, but in “Duro” and the rest of his Free EP, it conveys grand emotional (“New Guy in Town”) and political (“Free”) statements, showing a verbal dexterity that’s hard to find in most of the house music we generally tend to come upon. Considering nearly all of Cómeme’s roster has a certain flair for well placed syllables and riveting rhetorical statements, Paz himself has spoken on the influence his labelmates—particularly Daniel Maloso, and crew chief Matías Aguayo—have had on his own singing style (something of a Latin robotic baritone?); but curiously enough, his best dancefloor filler here is the happy house, near vocal-less track “Texit.” Finding worldwide recognition as a son of Cómeme, Paz is steadily earning his place among noteworthy Latin producers who have emigrated to the Old World; with Free he’s successfully asserted his palette as yet another synthesis of the Anglo-Saxon precision of techno, house, EBM, and a dose of Latin rhythm's warmth. - Pierre Lestruhaut




Xenia Rubinos
Magic Trix
JABA JABA MUSIC, USA

Voices as compelling as Xenia Rubinos' are rare. From the low register in the verses of "Hair Receding," like a leaden anchor grounding the clear higher notes, to the soft cooing and shrill, electronic-sounding sections of "When You Come," to the beatboxing on "I Like Being Alone" and the expertly looped and layered "Whirlwind," Rubinos scoops and swoops with the agility and ease of an acrobat. In "Cherry Tree" she takes her voice to its limit, letting it expand so that it seems like it will break, then right when it's teetering on the precipice, she takes control, holds it steady, and brings it back. It's one of the most captivating moments on the album, as gripping as a pivotal action sequence in a movie. Rubinos knows how to draw the listener in and hold their attention, not just with her voice, but with her storytelling. Many of the songs sound like they're meant for children, but they're not childlike. The whimsy is in Rubinos' approach. As she sings, you can picture her acting out the songs with grand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions, as if her audience is a kindergarten class. It's charming. Even when a plot detail catches you off guard, like when she sings that she wants to "lay you an egg straight into your mouth," and you're like, "hmmm, that's pretty weird," it's still endearing. Magic Trix is a wonderfully strange album that's like a collection of short stories told in the voice of a woman who is all the characters at once. - Blanca Méndez




Wyno
Meow LP
LOWERS, MEXICO

Wyno’s Meow LP properly kicks off what is sure to be one of the most exciting netlabels of 2013. It is a lackadaisical, at times melancholic, soundtrack of fleeting youth obfuscated by substances and state-imposed curfews. The fact that it stems from one of the bloodiest cities in the world no doubt exacerbates the album’s most morose moments. It is equal parts reverie and nightmare. Yet, beneath the dark veneer there is also an air of poignancy that comes with every coming-of-age story (drug wars notwithstanding). - Reuben Torres










Mentira Mentira
No Way Out
VALE VERGAS DISCOS, MEXICO

I remember being 14, locking myself in my room after another of what seemed like endless arguments with my parents. I would blast my Bleach CD, lie on my bed, and let Kurt formulate my angst through heavily distorted guitar riffs and emotional, raspy vox. Not that I miss feeling like no one really understands me or like I don’t belong, but I will always hold a special place for grunge in my music collection (as the soundtrack to all my anti-establishment endeavors). Some may say the fury and anguish of Mentira Mentira is artlessly modeled after the late Seattle sound, but Gaby Noriega’s conflicted attitude and unkempt aesthetic is far from being a poser’s use of hipster nostalgia. To me it seems that with No Way Out, MM participates in their own disorientated and disenchanted way in a broader artistic movement that runs against the prevailing status quo in Mexico. The Tijuana-born, Mexico City-based hard rock act displays more influences this time around, while still boasting the “odio la vida” vibe. The grunge and psych inflections are ever present, yet Noriega gets more punk (the mosh pit-ready “Make something up” and “Lars Hetfield,” as the Ramones cover, “Blitzkrieg Bop,” attest to this shift), and that’s pretty darn exciting! With No Way Out, Mentira Mentira may have found a way of reviving, transforming, even transcending our teenage rage and bitterness by delivering their most tangled and turbulent work yet. - Souad Martin-Saoudi




el raveVarious Artists
El Rave Azteca / Negative Youth México
CHOLES RECORDS, USA / MALIGNA, MEXICO

In 2011, Club Fonograma put a pause on the Fonogramaticos compilations because, among other reasons, there seemed to be a boom of blog-released compilations solely devoted to the Iberoamerican indie field (with virtually no real departure in concept, form, or aesthetic to ours). The format had a great amount of distillation in 2012, and it witnessed the rise of a couple of ambitious selectors that earned our applause. Texas-based label Choles Records released El Rave Azteca, the first 3ball compilation, described by its creators as “a new future full of pre-hispanix wisdom and hardstyle tension.” It’s full of hard-hitting beats and inherited bliss. Highlight appearances include that of Pacheko in the oddball “3ball City,” Meneo’s hypersexual “Asstech,” and Mexicans with Guns highly conceptualized “Cool Arrow.” To quote fellow Fonograma writer Reuben Torres, El Rave Azteca is an album to “dance without remorse.”

Another compilation earned plenty of praise from our staff, Maligna’s Negative Youth Mexico. Weird-as-fuck blog Negative Youth recruited 11 of Mexico’s most unorthodox new soundmakers in a compilation inspired by Mexico. It was an election year for the country, and so we find a highly political album that sounds as dangerous and controversial as one would imagine. Whether it’s Javier Estrada exploiting the classic Mariachi “Guadalajara,” or Teehn Bwitches distorting/scoring Enrique Peña Nieto’s gone-viral WorldFuture speech, this is a V.A. album that pushes forward. While most compilations add up to something, Negative Youth Mexico triumphs as a deconstruction. - Carlos Reyes






Espanto
Rock'n Roll
AUSTROHÚNGARO, SPAIN

Despite peaking somewhere in the early-to-mid '90s, Spaniard indie pop still continues to produce its fair amount of releases that look back to the golden days of acts like Le Mans and Family: from old guard staying true to their original sound and refusing to look forward (Sr. Chinarro, Single), to blooming neophytes drawing inspiration from the long gone days of romantic indie pop prosperity (pretty much everyone at Elefant Records). Espanto could hardly save themselves from falling under the latter category with their first release Ísimos y Érrimos, but with 2012’s Rock’n Roll they’ve inspired themselves by looking even further backwards in time: to the early days of good ol’ rock ’n’ roll, and the kind of time-warp cultism that believes rock ’n’ roll died with the airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper.

Musically obliged to the youthful sounds of the '50s, but lyrically paying homage to rockers from later eras (icons of psychedelia, folk, and glam), Rock’n roll seems to share the thought that the artification of rock is precisely where it took its own turn for worse. Peculiarly though, the album's biggest flaw is that none of the songs—aside from eponymous track and the likewise tuneful “Panteras”—really evince the visceral the qualities of the good ol’ rock’n’roll it wants to epitomize here. Its biggest virtue though, are the multiple readings it allows its listeners to make of it; whether it’s a rupture and discontent with the current Spaniard indie pop landscape, a half-baked tribute to the fathers of rock, or a suggestive critique of both rock’s time-warp cultists and its new generation of fake nostalgics (yeah, those who didn’t even live rock ’n' roll's golden era in the first place). - Pierre Lestruhaut

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