By Pierre Lestruhaut
To write about Mañaneros without acknowledging to what extent they are a byproduct of how the YouTube generation technology has granted access to an enormous library of musical influences would be plain wrong. Although pillaging the webs for inspirational material has been mostly explained as the foundation of “retromania,” the Chilean band that became blog favorites with underground sensation “El Volcán” are actually a case of “xenomania.” Mañaneros are precisely the type of phenomenon where, as Simon Reynolds himself would put it, Latin folk and dance forms are common to clash with American and European electronic staples. Not coincidentally, every single person that I know likes Mañaneros (and they all write for this blog) fits the profile of the internet era eclectic music nomad. Do we like this band because we listen to too much music, or do we listen to too much music in order to find a band like this one?
To be fully appreciative of Mañaneros' own musical nomadism and all over the place references requires not only the browsing habits of a twentysomething musical dilettante but also the hunger for obscure novelty of a music blog crate-digger (or should we say link-clicker). Even “bulks of Tumblr data come to mind” as Carlos Reyes mentioned in his Best Song of the Year blurb for last year’s “Baby Tropical,” which on paper makes it seem as they’re nothing more than your latest internet meme addicts who decided to start their own tropical bass project. But what makes Mañaneros ultimately better, weirder, and cooler than your average world beats troops is how they understand the importance of selectivity, depth, and inventiveness in an era where everyone can build a palette with infinite possibilities.
Their beat selection is diverse enough for them to be stylistically a little too all over the place, considering how in less than 45 minutes there’s cumbia, Andean folk (including a condor calling), tribal, and rapping. And although the mish-mash could have direly ended as a contemptuous joke (or even worse, an ethnomusicological exercise), Mañaneros shrug off any underlying possibilities of being kitsch or academic and instead come up with something that’s viscerally exciting to listen to. There’s no intention to chase down any ethnic obscurities for the sake of nonsectarian hipness either, they’re embracing the continent’s most populist styles in a way that’s more concerned with narrative and boldness than it is with atmosphere and sound.
They’re weird but without being as plain or light as Latin America’s most recent weirdo crowds. A line such as “Sra. Jocelyn, queremos rapear con su hija, hacer un doggy style” is a line that’s an immense WTF as much as it is an incredibly catchy pop idiom. Just as the omnipresence of Latin folk in their palette is more of a vessel for beatific gratification than it is a gimmick for indigenous digital quirkiness. They’re the kind of musicians that are likely to recognize what Tego Calderón has brought to Latin music more than they’re willing to stand for the more proggish waves of digital cumbia. Hexágono Final is not the kind of album that’s likely to propel the artification of Latin folk forms via electronic experimentalism, it’s actually a record that speaks volumes on the capacity of digital Latin folk to be great pop music.
Its final third does turn out to be its only big wrinkle, being precisely where Mañaneros fall into the trap of idea oversaturation and careless pastiche. “Futuro” is a retro-futuristic instrumental that disrupts both the frenetic quality and rhythm of the album’s first two thirds, while “Imiños” and “Hexágono Final” are so overstuffed with processed vocals and all types of retro-futurustic synth sounds, that it all simply ends up being too much of a mess. Conceptually it could have worked as a dystopian closure of some sort, but its execution is ultimately erratic and unenjoyable. Not unlike their debut EP, El Sonido de lo Inevitable, and its ghoulishly unpredictable closer “Levántate y come,” it seems that if Mañaneros have one big flaw it’s not knowing how to properly close down their albums.
All things considered, these last couple of years have been pretty amazing for the young Chilean band. Between their pair of initial releases there’s about a dozen mind-blowing tracks, considerably more than what many of the more venerated Europe-based Latin producers have been putting out these last couple of years. Which only makes it even more head-scratching and heart-wrenching that neither the artists, nor the media, nor the audience seems to be rallying behind them too much. It’s clear that Mañaneros are still quite far from being anything more than the favorite hidden gem of a few Latin internet music nerds. Whether they’ll turn out to be way ahead of the curve or will simply remain nothing more than an underground sensation, it seems that the latter is far more likely at this point. We’re really hoping that the rest of the continent will soon be catching up to them. If the future sounds like this, then it’s definitely one we would like to be a part of.