At the very end of each December it is of good custom to talk about what the year has musically brought us. Before I lose myself into listmania I think it’s fair to point out a great ensemble of musicians I discovered in the latter part of 2013. So if you’re interested in Mestizo with a South-American edge, dropping acid, UFO’s and… well, let’s say an overall craziness, please read on.
Former jazz-guitarist Eblis Álvarez is a leading figure in Columbia’s experimental music scene for quite some time now. Halfway through the nineties Álvarez began listing to Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten and decided it was nice to mix this up with some Argentinean rock and traditional Columbian music. Eventually this led to the foundation of the Meridian Brothers, which was in fact a one man show. Alone, he played the Bogota’s clubs and selling cassettes of his experiments, which he thought sucked big time. It was after spending some time at Danish Institute of Electronic Music Álvarez learned to canalize this experiments, that eventually was a mainstay to his first official published album with the trippy title: Meridian Brothers V: El advenimiento del castillo mujer (2006). After his return to Bogotá, Álvarez joined the now booming scene of cumbia, salsa and currulao. During this phase Álvarez met Maria Valencia (clarinet, saxophone and synthesizers), Alejandro Forero (keyboards), Cesar Quevedo (bass) and Damien Ponce (percussion) who joined him and adopted the misleading name of the Meridian Brothers. What’s in a name though? Nevertheless, from that point on, the Meridian Brothers released several albums and began touring small venues in Europe. Their latest studio album, Desesperanza, came out in 2012 and was a relative success within the worldwide avant-garde scene. I first heard of this ensemble after a Facebook post from The Heliocentrics who plugged the track ‘Guaracha U.F.O. – No Estamo Solos…’ and was sold in an instant. Desesperanza can be seen as a sort of a commercial turning point for Álvarez and is a true feast if you don’t shun innovative World Fusion. The older, even more obscure, work is however hard to come by. Luckily the Meridian Brothers released ‘introductory’ album this year for those who are in need of more, and obviously a release like this is irresistible for me to neglect.
Devoción is a compilation of their works from 2005 to 2011 and gives an interspersed overview of three Meridian Brothers albums from that period . From Meridian Brothers V the tracks, ‘Canción De Invierno’, ‘Canción Del Moderno Templario’ and ‘El Enamorado’ serve as fine examples of Álvarez’s maverickism. To give you a bit of guidance, the melting of various traditional Colombian, Peruvian and Caribbean styles slightly reminds of Manu Chao. This style is further deepened on Meridian Brothers VI (2009). The Meridian Brothers swingeingly intermingle vintage Columbian sounds with influences of Highlife and Ethio-jazz, as can be heard on ‘Sostengan Al Ángel Entusiasta’. However on ‘Escuchen El Grito Del Tigrillo’ there is more room for vague electronica and is foreshadowing the following album, Meridian Brothers VII .This 2011 release marks the shift towards a darker side of surrealism. Modulated vocals, distorted surf guitars, stretched synths and looping cumbia take the stuff out of you and unfolds into an unwariness of trip into dense and venomous jungle of some kind. Five of the twelve tracks on Devoción are from the Meridian Brothers VII album. Which is a good thing, for exactly this freaky atmosphere make the Meridian Brothers worthy to listen to. Devoción opener, ‘Los Falsos Reyes Magos’ evokes feelings of a beginning jungle fever which is heavily notched up during, my personal favorite, ‘El Jazz Del Chupasangres’. I agree all of this sounds kind of burdensome. Fortunately, like in many modern fairytales, a hallucination also contains some lighter sides. Therefore the compilation is equipped with a fair amount pleasant sarcasm. ‘Te Odio (Te Amo)’ seems to be a fleet-footed and overwrought interpretation of the Birdie Song, whilst ‘El Ganadero Del Futuro’ is a twisted tropical reference to the classic Pet Sounds record from The Beach Boys. Did I hear some growling tigers and trumpeting elephants, grunting rabbits…? Ergo, before nonsensicalness takes the upper hand in this review, it’s better to stop at this point.
If you didn’t noticed before, most of the reviews I’ve written this year are not for everyone. Unsurprisingly the same goes for this Meridian Brothers compilation. Those who have an aversion towards complicated dazzling works and are not interested in music coming from roughly the area surrounding the equator are advised to let Álvarez be. To all other readers, especially to the ones that have progressive mind, I would highly recommend this compilation. Devoción is an ideal introduction to the work of the Meridian Brothers and offers something new on each track. This compilation gives an excellent overview of the evolution of the ‘brothers’ work. Seemingly without any difficultly they beat down their instruments and simultaneously uphold a deep respect to the foundations of salsa, latin and cumbia, thus resulting in a exiting hybridity of innovative sounds. Devoción also unveils the two sided nature of the band. Sometimes this causes downright feelings of hysteria, hence this can just as easily turn into a sweetly-melodic atmosphere a track further on. Therefore be mindful your still listening to a ‘introduction to…’. If you’re not the type who buys compilations, I suggest you listen to Meridian Brothers VII for starters and expect the unexpected.
Label: Soundway Records
1. Los Falsos Reyes Magos (6:16)
2. El Enamorado (4:33)
3. Te Odio (Te Amo) (4:38)
4. Sostengan Al Ángel Entusiasta (7:36)
5. Canción Del Moderno Templario (4:27)
6. Escuchen El Grito Del Tigrillo (5:24)
7. Canción De Invierno (5:38)
8. El Jazz Del Chupasangres (6:06)
9. El Ganadero Del Futuro (6:35)
10. Devoción (11:38)
11. Sigan Al Minero Hasta La Escal (5:42)
12. Coplas Para Cantar Al Atardece (5:29)
Meridian Brothers – Salsa del Zombie (Sesión en vivo) – Live at Matik Matik (2012) – Bogotá
Review by Wander Meulemans // 271213