by Pierre Lestruhaut
If our own twitter feed was a representative sample size for all of Latin America, then Ases Falsos would already be international superstars. Although they may not be the most universally loved indie darlings (it does have its good share of skeptics), there’s not another band that has garnered so much enthusiasm among bloggers and tastemakers, in large part thanks to the scope and ambition of their “debut” album Juventud Americana. A fiercely cathartic and politically charged record, the strength of Juventud Americana’s lyricism relied not so much on its content but on its form. “Europa” was essentially 21st century resentment of European colonialism, and “La Sinceridad del Cosmos” was yet another defense of left-wing street protests, but the elegance of its delivery — the European crisis seen through an I-don’t-give-a-fuck punk attitude, or the nobility of street protesting personified by the animals appearing on each side of the conflict — is what elevated them towards lyrical pop grandeur.
If you listen to Juventud Americana back-to-back with its follow-up record Conducción, you’ll notice that Cristóbal Briceño and his band are turning the cathartic and revolutionary knobs a few levels down. It’s not just the shift in mood here but also the shift in content: going from subversive youthful energy towards adult apprehension. Sonically, the very obvious comparison with mainstream Anglo rock here may be Springsteen’s Nebraska or Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, going from anthemic to intimate. It’s a record that tries to look inwards rather than outwards, as from the first few bars Briceño claims sociopolitical issues need to be saved for later, as it’s time to focus on personal ones “Habrá tiempo para hablar de la confrontación, antes vamos a sondear la gruta personal.”
Although pop and rock are the quintessential forms to express the ideals of political engagement and undying love, Conducción is actually more about the hard realizations of adulthood. In “Búscate Un Lugar Para Ensayar” Briceño sings like the old been-there-done-that former student who participated in way too many street protests with strong catchphrases that eventually ended in partying, thus highly critical of how protesting values posturing instead of ideas (“pero son frases hechas que se olvidan con facilidad, después de unas cervezas nadie sabe dónde quedó la rabia.”). “Mi Ejército” is regretful of past days spent fighting against the world (“Parece que fue ayer cuando creí en la lucha contra el mundo”), and arrives at the realization that all humans must make their own way in the world (“soy mi comandante y a la vez mi primera línea”).
Throughout Conducción, you can sense that these are the thoughts of an almost thirty something that is digesting the hard truths of life that go against the ideals of the rock realm. In “Ivanka” Briceño speaks about perhaps the hardest one of them all: the futility of everlasting love, and the acceptance that romantic relationships must come to an end (“Te encontré saliendo herida de una relación dañina, siendo justos yo no sé si exista otro final”). Conducción is a poignant record at times, even if its surface can be uplifting. Briceño just loves playing with the contradictions between form and content: the album’s most delicate and gorgeously sounding song (“Niña por favor”) is actually about the importance of despise and how deep down we all really love to hate, while its most gimmicky lyrics are found in a catchy 80’s power pop number that’s about loneliness and depression (“Plácidamente”).
In “Cae la cortina” the record enters the territory of morality. A song about how in reality everyone is the same in their own private domains, (“cuando cae la cortina, queda claro como vives”) it resonates tremendously in our times given how social media has made well-known figures who fuck up subject to public scrutiny, even though we are all the same behind those curtains. But the most accomplished song here is probably “Yo No Quiero Volver.” Using the metaphor of a computer as a crystal ball connecting the world and allowing us to see the past of humanity, it might seem like it would initially be critical about how, despite owning magical boxes allowing us to access knowledge and information within seconds, we’ve done so few to actually use it as something beneficial to society. Yet it concludes that free access to information is a lot better than being subject to the all-dominance of information that television and newspapers previously had.
A lot is made of Cristóbal Briceño’s magical mystery mind from which emanate wonderful words and melodies, but the quality of his accompanying band here is often understated. The band’s sonics are perfectly in step with Briceño’s simple ideas, and Conducción is yet another work of timeless and well-crafted pop music, romantic lyricism, and sociopolitical reflection. Briceño himself has talked about how the surface should be just as important as the content, and there may not be an explicit reference to Juan Gabriel here, but more than ever, Ases Falsos show the same obsession for melodical efficiency that Juanga always did. Ases Falsos has always been a sensory experience as much as an intellectual one: strong powerful poignant content that gives it its cultural relevancy, but always presented in a shiny glittering surface. And it’s that surface that has you eventually coming back to the songs months or even years after they were released.