Ciudad Dormitorio, Carmen Sandiego
by Monika Fabian
Five years and four releases into a band’s life, it’s way more common to hear of reshuffling or downsizing than, say, expansion. And yet Carmen Sandiego did the unthinkable: it doubled in size in between 2010’s Joven Edad and Christmas Eve’s Ciudad Dormitorio. Fortunately the gamble by Flavio Lira and Leticia Skrycky to welcome longtime collaborators Matías Lens and Ezequiel Rivero into the fold paid off immediately. Ciudad Dormitorio is Carmen Sandiego’s most accomplished work to date. The outcasts, antiheroes, and daydreamers populating this ‘Bedroom Community’ evoke post-adolescent lust, ennui, and restlessness from the inside out, and the band behind this world fuses lyrics and melodies of equal emotional weight to construct solid, multi-dimensional narrative statements.
Dormitorio largely sheds the adolescent fascinations of its predecessor; only occasionally waxing juvenile. Narrators in “Generación 2002” and “Monja En La Fiesta,” for example, envision bombing their high school reunion and making their peers kneel on glass. Although the albums are touchtones of their respective life stages, Edad is like a tumblr to Dormitorio’s Moleskine. The former is a less realized version of the latter, yet both works are inextricably necessary. Dormitorio is a repository of obsessions, insecurities, fantasies, pettiness, and love poetry penned by someone more inclined to look around and ahead than back. It’s quarter-life living and anxiety circa 2014.
But it doesn’t even take delving that deep to understand, or even appreciate, Ciudad Dormitorio’s brilliance—the music is effortlessly dexterous. Carmen Sandiego has upped its musicianship with polished, full-bodied arrangements that convey newfound confidence and maturity. Lira’s reedy voice is a wonderful counterweight Skrycky’s ethereal turns. The guitar work vacillates from jagged to dreamy throughout the effort, and shades in the songs’ worlds (“Maria” and “Avalon en Larravide”) as it gives way to the smaller touches (“Mi Pierna Derecha”).
At the risk of taking its title too literally, Carmen Sandiego’s latest reminded of several surburban rock quartets. The overall catholic coherence felt Tacvba-esque. The jangly guitar hooks in “Ocupaciones y Oficios” and “Chocotoño Killer” had DNA smatterings of REM. And the retro, lo-fi feeling “Generacion 2002” and “Fiat 600” recalled the Ramones and Beach Boys. And yet that’s all to say that the Uruguayan quartet’s new work is in storied company and essentially captures something all those groups have before them. In Ciudad Dormitorio, they use a potent symbol of guarded idealism, beauty, ugliness, idyllic emptiness, nostalgia, rage, sadness, and ambivalence to reflect on all of the ordinary humanity wandering about.