Best Albums of 2015

By 16 December, 2015

The criteria for our annual year-end list is simple: these are collectively our favourite South American albums of the year, which is to say that they are albums that either hail from South America or feature South American musicians or rhythms in abundance. As with our website in general this is how we differentiate ourselves from all the other Latin American music sites out there, while also making it plain to see that there is a ridiculous amount of incredible music coming out of South American countries at the moment, as these albums from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru can attest. Enjoy!

20. Magín Díaz y el Sexteto Gamerano (Colombia)

Chosen by David

Konn Recordings label boss Mauricio Sandoval personally recorded and conducted this project, bringing the ancestral voice of Magín Diaz to the world, also contacting worldwide producer friends for additional bonus discs with remixes to go with the originals. Now you can listen to the real traditional music and then the reinterpretations using electronic rhythms like house, dembow and future bass. Hearing the rough take of the classic “Rosa” in the interpretation of its original composer, gives you the chills of listening to something extremely pure, but with the ageing of a good aguardiente, intoxicating and emotional. The additional production on the remix side is in the hands of established producers like ZZK’s King Coya, compatriot Pernett and Peruvian duo Dengue, Dengue Dengue, a select supporting team giving the proper honours to a real legend of the Colombian music. David Bugueño

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19. Matorral – Gabriel (Chile)

Chosen by Nuno

The new Matorral album Gabriel takes its name after the first born child of the bass player and former member Gonzalo Planet, and surely this album is a brand new start in many ways. The band’s new members Arauz and Del Favero (also in Condor Jet), who made their first appearance in Matorral’s Remoto Control (2013) to widespread acclaim have now fully unlifted their bold spirit and together with Planet’s serpentine bass playing and Cadenasso’s almost incorporeal singing (gone are the Townshend-esque guitar riffs and fiery licks) have made these new compositions radiate transcendence. The songs, emerging completely in post-production (none of them existed before!) may sometimes remind one of Leo Quinteros’ trendsetter (and national hidden treasure) album 1A, and they rise majestic like the sun behind the Andes. Nuno Veloso

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18. Elza Soares – A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (Brazil)

Chosen by Kamille

For the 34th album of her career – a career that has spanned a remarkable six decades – legendary carioca Elza Soares decided to enlist the help of São Paulo’s vanguardistas for potentially the most surprising and exhilarating album of her career. Without doubt, it is the most incendiary: these are songs that talk of the apocalypse, of the problems in Brazil’s cities, of sexual and domestic violence, even transgender violence on the no wave-esque “Benedita.” Her band, which includes members of Passo Torto and Metá-Metá, and also doubles as the source of the songs here, give Soares a brand new (heavily-distorted) palette which seems to chime with her aged growl and sense of a life lived. It’s with the work of Passo Torto, who aspire to reveal the hidden and often unequal stories of Brazilian life, that this album has the most similarities. With the extra gravitas of Soares’ unique weather-beaten samba snarl they have extra gravitas. Russ Slater

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17. Elsa y Elmar – Rey (Colombia)

Chosen by Juan Pablo

Colombian independent/alternative pop (or whatever that may mean) has walked a long path, following the big steps that ‘older brothers’ like Bomba Estereo, ChocQuibTown or Aterciopelados have taken. A new wave led by Monsieur Perine and that has been joined by Esteman, Juan Pablo Vega and Pedrina y Río, among many others, have explored new landscapes mixing Colombian and tropical sounds, pop formulas and the freshness given by youth and endless experiments. Elsa y Elmar’s Rey is a deluxe example of this aesthetic – a rich, colorful, playful, witty and feminine album that honestly and openly talks about love and relationships. Elsa Carvajal’s beautiful voice and melodies blend with the mature and resourceful production of Mateo Lewis (another member of the new wave of Colombian pop). Juan Pablo Castiblanco Ricaurte

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16. Meridian Brothers – Los Suicidas (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ and Juan Pablo

Meridian Brothers delight and annoy in equal measures. I have heard many a fan of traditional and, especially, middle-of-the-road Colombian music decry that “this is not Colombian music”, unable to accept the multi-faceted nature of culture and identity, as well as the spirit of experimentation. This is what we love about Meridian Brothers. Los Suicidas is probably their least-accessible record for a few years, but it’s undeniably intriguing. Taking inspiration from Colombia’s Hammond organ virtuoso Jaime Llano Gonzalez the relatively-short album features Colombian rhythms such as pasillos, bambucos and cumbias, alongside foxtrots and waltzes, for a carnivalesque post-tropical head trip that has more in common with Carl Stalling than Carlos Vives… just the way we like it. Russ Slater

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15. Shaman y Los Pilares de La Creación – Sueño Real (Argentina)

Chosen by Russ

The most cohesive album yet from the mysterious Shaman y Los Pilares de La Creación. Almost completely gone are the guitars of previous albums, for a sound dominated by synths and plaintive drums. In terms of feel, comparisons with Nick Cave, Suicide and Joy Division seem most apt. Working with Ernesto “Neto” García (frequent collaborator with Julieta Venegas and Natalia Lafourcade), this is an album that bridges the gap between accessibility and Shaman’s psychedelic tendencies, offering up infectious melodies like that of “Sonríe” or “El Viejo en la Vereda” without ever sacrificing any integrity. This is a record that deserves a bigger audience. Russ Slater

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14. Ava Rocha – Ava Patrya Yndia Yracema (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ

The tag of “post-tropicália” has never felt more apparent that on the latest release from Ava Rocha. Ava Patrya Yndia Yracema is the second album from the Rio-born singer and offers 12 tracks of astonishing inventiveness and originality. At times the music recalls classic tropicália, as on the Caetano-esque orchestrations of “O Jardim” or “Herética”, at other times it can be abrasive as with the direct, post-punk anti-police overtones of “Auto das Bacantes”. Then there’s the psych-pop of “Transeunte Coração”, “Beijo No Asfalto” with hints of Marcos Valle’s 70s jazz or the Tom Zé/Jorge Ben hybrid of “Uma”. Russ Slater

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13. Novalima – Planetario (Peru)

Chosen by Gina and Amaya

For anyone, who hasn’t heard Novalima before, then you’re in for a treat. Because these are past masters of grafting the rootsiest of Peruvian sounds with the best that international DJ culture has to offer. And for those that have experienced their artfulness before, although this album won’t change your perception of the band, it will reinforce your belief in their ability to do it better than anyone else. Will Jeffreys

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12. Cidadão Instigado – Fortaleza (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ

Are Cidadão Instigado the best rock band in Latin America? That is my own personal belief. When it comes to inventiveness, distinctiveness and classic groove after classic groove there are very few bands that can match them. This is clear on Fortaleza, which in “Green Card” and “Quando a Mascara Cai” contains two of the most powerful compositions they’ve ever released, tracks that constantly surprise you no matter how many times you’ve listened to them before, with Fernando Catatau’s voice and guitar continually bewitching. The reason they’re not rock royalty is most likely due to the fact that they’re an underground rock band playing with pop melodies, which makes them too pop for the most avant-garde heads but too inventive for the indie pop fans. It’s no matter to us. As long as they keep making music like this we’ll be happy. Russ Slater

11. La Mambanegra – El Callegüeso y su Malamaña (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ and Juan Pablo

Out of the embers of La Mojarra Eléctrica, Jacobo Velez formed this astonishing nueva salsa group, as funky as James Brown and as hot as the Cali nightclubs that they light up on a regular basis. It’s in this environment where they’re at their best, but they’re no slouches on record either. “Puro Potenkem” is fiery as hell with killer horn grooves throughout. It’s followed by “El Sabor de la Guayaba”, which slows the pace but not the level of perspiration. This is the case throughout this scintillating debut that is stacked with so many highlights, from the salsa/rap of “La Compostura” to the disco salsa of “Me Parece Perfecto”. Russ Slater

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10. Nicola Cruz – Prender el Alma (Ecuador)

Chosen by Amaya and Marco

Can minimalism paint itself with folkloric dyes and traditional rhythms, and still sound convincing? Listening to the first album by Nicola Cruz the answer looks like a straightforward “claro que si”. Thanks to his Ecuadorian roots and Andean open-wide soundscapes, the Quito-born and bred artist is able to infuse new life into the Latin downtempo scene which has quickly spread its popularity around the world. Prender el Alma wisely mixes inorganic structures and organic ornamentations. Cruz uses indigenous particulars to enrich and give incisive meanings to the electronic background of his compositions. In this way, the earthy pan flute, enticing percussion and elastic guitar chords create an imaginative substrate on the airy and wintry downbeat surface. Prender el Alma shows that Cruz’s ‘Andes step’ is not just a smart neologism, but an intriguing and developing music style. Marco Canepari

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9. Astro – Chicos de la luz (Chile)

Chosen by Juan Pablo and Nuno

Astro are not your average pop band. Yes, it may not be completely clear for many listeners that enjoyed their self-titled second album, but there was more than MGMT and Animal Collective references to Andrés Nusser and his gang. The influence of progressive rock (Yes, and in particular, Jon Anderson’s high pitched vocals!) has finally emerged in Chicos De La Luz, their third album. From the beginning, with “Uno”, there is a concept rising: a mystical journey. Nuno Veloso

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8. Romperayo – Romperayo (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ and Juan Pablo

Though Romperayo began as a solo project of Colombian musician Pedro Ojeda, best known as drummer for Ondatropica, Frente Cumbiero and Los Pirañas, it has since grown into an astonishing live band that I had the fortune to see in Bogotá in 2013. With Eblis Alvarez (Meridian Brothers, Frente Cumbiero, Los Pirañas) on samples and keyboards, Ricardo Gallo on piano and synths and Juan Manuel Toro on bass, as well as Ojeda on drums, it was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. It’s this group of musicians that feature on Romperayo’s self-titled second LP. Capable of pushing experimentation to its limits whilst never letting the groove suffer, this is a group firmly in the ‘tropical futurist’ bracket, and fans of Meridian Brothers, Los Pirañas, Ondatropica and Frente Cumbiero will likely find much to love here. Russ Slater

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7. Dom La Nena – SOYO (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ

Soyo begs comparison with her first album, Ela . The two are equally lovely, but La Nena’s freshness, her dorky elegance, and how she presents herself as both seasoned and callow, are more grounded now, and more assertive, following her changing co-producers and two years of exploration. As she moved from British singer/songwriter, Piers Faccini, to fellow Brazilian, Marcelo Camelo, the tenor of her work for the most part has shifted from ethereal to percussive, albeit a breezy percussive. Carolina Amoruso

6. Gepe – Estilo Libre (Chile)

Chosen by Gina and Amaya

This is where Gepe’s message comes out. His pop is the attempt to include or absorb aesthetic differences in Chile, resulting in a sound that, whilst not the most original out there, is always a window to the vast possibilities of using past forms in a city (and ultimately a continent) with a fast-growing, and at times forgetful, music scene. Estilo Libre is an expression of freedom and stylistic mastery. In it, Gepe is calling on tradition to pave the way in what feels like a search for identity and voice. If you’re the kind of person who likes understanding your favourite artists’ transitive experiments and the way their future sound is being shaped, this will be a really enjoyable album for you. Gonzalo C. Garcia

5. Bomba Estereo – Amanecer (Colombia)

Chosen by Gina and Marco

At first Amanecer appears to be a largely bass-heavy and electronic affair but soon it reveals sultry textures with a Caribbean neo-soul spirit. Their use of Juke and dancehall rhythms while still using Caribbean elements ensures the listener never forgets that Bomba are proudly Colombian. The album’s poetic lyrics and strong mixture of folkloric and avant-garde sounds guide us through a journey into waking up the consciousness within. Amanecer, also the first song of the album, literally means to wake up or to dawn. Throughout the tracks we learn so much about this self-celebration, culminating in “Raiz” (Root), the last song of the album. Jessica Diaz-Hurtado

4. Bareto – Impredecible (Peru)

Chosen by Russ and Marco

After plugging away through various stylistic incarnations, from the ska of their debut to the guitar-based cumbia of their subsequent albums, it feels like Peru’s Bareto have finally found themselves, producing one of the best Latin American albums of the year in the process. On opener ‘La Voz del Sinchi’ they show off perhaps their best yet cumbia – fans of classic Peruvian chicha will rejoice – by keeping the pace to a steady groove and letting the intricate guitar and bass grooves drive the sound, but it’s one of the few cumbias on the album. Elsewhere, they use an assortment of flavours, showing off a new-found diversity that proves a revelation. Russ Slater

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3. Axel Krygier – Hombre De Piedra (Argentina)

Chosen by Russ and Amaya

It feels almost impossible to write a normal CD review of an album like this. It seems to be a continuous flow of musical consciousness, with fantasy and darkness much like the writing of Hunter S Thompson or Virginia Woolf. Krygier has always been known for mixing styles, sounds, ideas and instruments that never normally go together and here it feels really free and the ride is really, really fun. He’s a good example of how a multi-cultural city soundscape can affect a sensitive artist. Highly recommended listening, especially if you want to broaden your musical mindwaves. Caroline Pearsall

2. Kanaku y el Tigre – Quema Quema Quema (Peru)

Chosen by Gina, Amaya and Gonzalo

The evolution of Kanaku y el Tigre is apparent with their new album Quema, Quema, Quema. The Peruvian indie-folk band have expanded their sound with Anglo-influences and vintage undertones. Known for their psych-folk-tinged music, their latest is a vibrant take on the subdued sound of their debut Caracoles. The easy going and lively lyrics, containing many free-spirited messages, are said by the band to be inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. They are at the forefront of the new sound that Kanaku Y El Tigre have created, one that will surprise the listener and keep them moving with the power of their beats. Rachel Matheson

1. Bixiga 70 – III (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ, Amaya and Marco

This 10-piece collective represents the most African-oriented aspects of the paulista music scene, drawing from afrobeat, funk and jazz, Afro-Brazilian spiritual imaginary, but also from their own country’s and South America’s traditional repertoires, reviving styles like carimbó, candomblé, samba, salsa, cumbia… If their previous efforts served to make their name known, it’s with their most recent work that Bixiga 70 finally shows itself to be more than a young and up-and-coming act. III is the proof that the ensemble has effectively become aware and confident in its own abilities. Marco Canepari

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