10 Classic Chilean Albums (1999-2014)

By and | 31 October, 2014

To finish off our Chilean month here on Sounds and Colours we thought we’d pick out some of our favourite modern albums from the country. It is fair to say that the music scene has blossomed in recent years with acts like Ana Tijoux and Javiera Mena gaining international reputations, and with Alex Anwandter, Gepe, Astro and Föllakzoid not far behind. What’s intriguing is the variety of music being made, with artists creating pop, folk, rock, hip-hop and variations in between, while still managing to create their own identity and find an audience. Here, Sounds and Colours’ Russ Slater and Nick MacWilliam pick some of their favourite Chilean records of the past 15 years.

El Sueno de la Casa Propia – Historial de Caidas (2010)

On this debut album as El Sueño de la Casa Propia, José Manuel Cerda elevated his status to that of one of the most interesting electronic music producers in Latin America. Historial de Caidas toyed with the idea of being a pop album, adding hooks here and there, even using simple guitar riffs or blissful vocals every now and again, yet Cerda was never able to stop there. He tore apart the hooks, abstracting them, lacing them with additional idea after idea until this debut became unlike anything else before or since. It’s not just the fascination with deconstructing pop that makes it a fascinating record, or the abundance of ideas, but also that Cerda was able to do all of that while putting his own stamp on the record, somehow making it more personable than any electronic record has the right to be. Historial de Caidas became so important that fellow Latin Americans flocked to contribute to the follow-up Remixes album. A landmark for Latin American electronica. RS

Banda Conmoción – Pregonero (2008)

La Banda Conmoción are as much a Santiago institution as the Bellas Artes Museum, El Hoyo restaurant or the hippies who sell soya burgers outside every metro station. They’re also probably the best party band around, playing a lot in the city’s alternative venues but also taking their carnival to the outer limits and partaking in a long Chilean tradition of bringing music to the people rather than waiting for them to come to you. The sound is based round the spiky horns of the northern altiplano, which comes to life at the annual Fiesta de la Tirana, but blends in plenty of other styles, with lashings of cumbia, afro-rhythms and Balkan melodies, often played at ska-speed. More an orchestra than a band, la Conmoción recently released their third album Tiraneño, which we will be reviewing soon no doubt. But we’ve chosen their debut for this list, 2008’s Pregonero, which gives some idea as to the manic jostle of their sensational live shows. NM

Gepe – Gepinto (2005)

After leaving his band Taller Dejao and releasing his first EP, 5 x 5, Daniel Riveros (aka Gepe) blew all away with his debut full-length. In many ways it was the forming of Riveros as an artist, finally able to unite his three main influences of folk, pop and electronica in an accessible manner, marking a step up from his early lo-fi EP. Suddenly the vocals, guitars and humming beats leapt at our senses and Riveros’ personality finally came through, the influences of Victor Jara, Beach Boys and Boards of Canada all plain to see. The album also saw Gepe begin to experiment with additional instruments, using a 5-string guitar and toy xylophone on certain songs. It’s through this area that Gepe’s music has grown since, forever finding ways to add extra detail to his songs, yet it was on this debut with mainly just vocals, guitars and occasional beats that the songs shone best. “Namas” is the perfect example. RS

Föllakzoid – II (2013)

Now this is how guitar music should be played. Songs which last more than ten minutes yet never veer from the rising tension that builds steadily throughout. Choruses? Pah! Only for the weak. Föllakzoid’s first album II picked up a lot of attention in the international music press, and the experimental-art rock four piece head the new wave of psychedelic bands coming out of Chile, an exciting movement featuring the likes of Holydrug Couple, Intermitentes and La Hell Gang. Excellent bands all of them, yet none capture the sheer intensity Föllakzoid exhibit on songs like “9” and “Trees”, which sound something like Aphex Twin producing a Black Sabbath album. The single-shot videos capture the sense of impending dread that characterises their music (in a good way) and my daily existence (in a bad one). Check out the lone rider in the “Pulsar” video, which manages to be visually arousing and utterly terrifying even though nothing much happens. My undisputed favourite rock band of the last five years from anywhere. NM

Matias Aguayo – Ay Ay Ay (2009)

Some time in the late-00s the Berlin-based Aguayo turned his back on the minimal music he had helped to define as one half of Closer Musik. He travelled Latin America, started the Cómeme record label in Buenos Aires, organised Bumbumbox parties all over the place and released his kiss-off track to the minimal movement, “Minimal”, which had lyrics like “People don’t dance, cause that music got no groove, got no balls”. Then he dropped Ay Ay Ay, an incredible dance music record that would surely have a greater reputation if it fit in with any known genre. Aguayo’s hallucinatory vocals became a big part of the new sound, his bilingual lyrics choosing words for their sounds rather than meanings, while beefy raw beats and elements of Latin percussion gave the songs more energy and a sense that they could head in new directions from one second to the next, a far cry from the controlled environments of Closer Musik. Aguayo continued the new direction on another classic, The Visitor, released in 2013. RS

Evelyn Cornejo – Evelyn Cornejo (2011)

There are few people on Chile’s nu-folk scene who identify with the socially-conscious legacy of Victor Jara and Violeta Parra quite like Evelyn Cornejo. Although not the most technical of musicians, Cornejo is a fantastic songwriter and lyricist, using her music to address many of the realities faced by young people, indigenous groups and worker movements in the country today. Her mournful tone seems to be carried in the realisation that, even in the post-dictatorship, Chile remains governed by inequality and oppression. Her call is to resist, a concept related to by many young Chileans. The first time I saw Evelyn play live, she was supporting another of her country’s activist singers, Anita Tijoux: ostensibly different musicians who share similar traits of building consciousness through their art. But while Tijoux nowadays looks to the horizon as she invokes the collective struggle across continents, Evelyn spreads the message at home, reminding new generations of their ability to make a difference to their own society. NM

Javiera Mena – Esquemas Juveniles (2006)

It feels like we’re used to great pop music coming from Chile, but this was not always the case. Javiera Mena’s debut album Esquemas Juveniles was a ground-breaking release, a true pop masterpiece that laid the groundwork for all the indie pop that was to follow. Mena’s debut could be split into two halves, yearning cutting synth numbers on one hand, and slower soulful ballads on the other. It was as if Karen Carpenter had been trained by Erasure and then recorded with The Knife. At times heartbreaking, at times fist-in-the-air defiant, Mena proved that she was a great songwriter here. On later albums she may have improved the production and nailed some great melodies, but in this calmer, more emotional state we got to see the artist developing and the revelatory soundtrack that accompanied that. RS

Makiza – Aerolíneas Makiza (1999)

Speaking, then, of Anita Tijoux, and the group with which she made her name. In the late-90s, Makiza merged the vocal talents of Tijoux and fellow rapper Seo2, the scratching skills of DJ squat and slick production matched by few acts at the time, with a lyrical content far removed from the posturing bravado that was an unfortunate characteristic of so much hip hop. It saw Makiza, along with their compatriots Tiro de Gracia, become one of the defining names on the Latin American hip hop scene. Their first album Vida Salvaje was so popular that the band was quickly snapped up by Sony Records, but the corporate association did nothing to lessen Makiza’s incendiary sound and provocative lyrics, as Tijoux and Seo2 used their elevated platform to launch attacks on Chile’s economic system and public figures associated with the Pinochet dictatorship. On top of that, their beats were as slick as a tanker disaster. Aerolíneas Makiza pissed off the establishment and raised the profile of Chilean hip hop higher than anyone before or since, other than Tijoux herself in her subsequent solo career. NM

Astro – Astro (2011)

It’s hard for me to write about Astro without feeling overcome with joy. Their second album, Astro, is an unabashed pop triumph. Whereas Javiera Mena opted for classic synth hooks and icy vocals, Astro went for all out fun, with keyboards, vocals and beats jumping all over the shop as the group hammer home some sweet, sweet melodies. Every track on the album is a sugar-filled treat, yet remarkably it never gets tiresome. This is largely down to the quality and variety of the melodies as well as the production, which is surprisingly free of clutter. On tracks like “Ciervos”, “Manglares” and “Panda” Astro are at their shimmering best, and so it was no surprise that the record was soon picked up by Nacional Records and released in the US a year after its release. Aside from the track “Hawaii” we’ve heard little new material from Astro since this release. Let’s hope they’re still having fun! RS

Pánico – Subliminal Kill (2005)

Although their first album was released way back in 1994, it is 2005’s Subliminal Kill which most people recognise as Pánico’s definitive disc, a kinetic surge of disco-punk in the vein of mid-00s US bands like LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture. Shrouded in rock ‘n’ roll ire, Subliminal also featured ironic ‘Latino’-accented lyrics delivered in pidgin English and, in “Que Pasa Wey” and “Transpiralo”, two singles which sound as invigorating today as they did back then. Pánico, however, are something of an anomaly as few of their other discs have captured the lofty heights attained here. Like many of their compatriots before them, the band have spent most of the last decade in France, a country which seems to resonate strongly with Chilean creative types. This trans-continental element can be clearly heard on Subliminal Kill, and suggests that the global domain we cohabit may well be smaller than we think, but it’s also damn good fun. NM


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