by Carlos Reyes
Juan Manuel Torreblanca opened his review of Pedropiedra’s self-titled debut inquiring two questions: “Que le pasa a Pedro? What’s wrong with him?” Pedropiedra’s sudden emergence provoked this kind of reaction. It was the result of a collective concern that attempted to understand how a man could sound so equally miserable and grateful. Almost five years later, we found ourselves right at home immersed in the Pedropiedra experience. Cripta y Vida was a harder swallow than anyone could’ve predicted (as we saw Pedro’s songcraft going into content territory), yet it offered what’s arguably his best single to date (“Vacaciones en el mas alla”). Emanuel, his third album, doesn’t contain such a hit single and struggles to depart from the comforts of its predecessor delivering what’s Pedropiedra’s most abrasive music box yet.
Despite being right in the middle of it, Pedropiedra’s burgeoning in the industry is rarely associated with the Chilean pop stamp. His anti-hero (almost antagonist) temperament and unmeasured humanism still make him sound like an outcast in Emanuel. “Yo no se sonreir, ni mucho menos llorar,” sighs Pedro as he verges his themes from atypical to subversive. “Pasajero” is an odd choice of a first single (it’s in fact, a winking anti-single). The song’s tempo is buoyant and the lyrics are candid, but, like the traveler in the story, the melody never really gets where it’s heading. It’s confined and displaced, something that not even the album's mentalist/cleansing intro and album cover can prepare us for. Pedropiedra’s against-the-grain tenor is far better realized in the quieter moments of the album. Particularly in the gorgeous “Eclipse Total,” where Pedropiedra forgets about granting privilege to subversive lyrics and instead goes for the kill servicing from what he does best: vocal harmonies. I still get goose bumps whenever I remember those few seconds the world got to listen to the chorus of "Ay Ay Ay" at the Golden Globes as part of La Nana's soundtrack.
Sometimes vocal harmonies make all the difference. Very few songwriters have the gift for cascading, restraining, and releasing vocals the way Pedropiedra does. This compositional device is ultimately what saves Emanuel from sounding mundane and turns it into a self-sustaining album. Those aerodynamic vocals in “Granos de Arena” (featuring Gepe and Delaselva) and that optimistic blooming whistle in “Lima” are in full command of melodic timing. Pedro is at his best whenever he personalizes song structure and makes it as important as any lyrical fixations (that "Nazi Nazi" wordplay in “Más Rápido Que Tú” is disastrous, yet the mirroring synth crescendos in “Noche de San Juan” are worthy of the highest praise). In the end, it's the material, and not the actual narrative what keeps the album at middling terrain. Perhaps it just needed more time to cook. Emanuel is a defiantly difficult album to grab onto, yet it’s in its own failures and triumphs that it manifests its unfulfilled rage. Even at its most understated hour, Pedropiedra proves to be auteristic and earnest.