Review Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza

Psychedelic salsa from one of Colombia's most interesting musicians

I wasn’t surprised when I heard that the new Meridian Brothers record was going to be released by Soundway Records, making it the first UK release by this Colombian group. Essentially the recording project of Eblis Javier Álvarez, the group swells to fit it’s name (alluding to salsa groups like Latin Brothers and LeBrón Brothers) when playing live. As much as I loved VII, the last Meridian Brothers record, it was perhaps a little too obtuse to warrant a debut UK release. This was not the case with Desesperanza.

Devised as a kind of salsa concept album, Desesperanza is more upbeat than previous records, with percussion constantly shuffling in the background and bass taking more of a role in keeping the beat moving and adding to the melody. With salsa the theme, rhythm plays a larger part in the record, but this is where any feeling of familiarity ends.

Meridian Brothers records are defined by three things; Álvarez’s voice, veering between Vincent Price-esque haunting narrator and effusive fanboy, neither showing a great aptitude for singing but giving life to the colourful characters that fill these songs; the use of electronics, blurring the lines between what are synths and guitars, which elements are played live and which are programmed, a trick that blows your preconceptions out of the water, this is not music to understand on a technical level; and lastly is the production. This is the element that can make Meridian Brothers a hard band to understand on first listen. Rhythmic music is usually heavy on the bass, on the rhythms, yet here it’s the melodies and Álvarez’s voice which are high in the mix, and which often veer into high-pitched or odd frequencies. It’s a distinctive sound which makes perfect sense after a few listens.

Within this framework Álvarez brings in his ideas, which on Desesperanza means a hybrid of salsa for the music and a collection of outsider personalities and seemingly incongruous ideas for the songs. There is the opening track “Guaracha U.F.O (No Estamos Solos…)”, a Joe Meek instrumental journey into the extraterrestrial; “Salsa Caliente”, a salsa pastiche ending with the refrain of “no tengo pantalón” or “I have no pants”; an undead-accompanied take on salsa on “Salsa Del Zombie (Perseguido Por Alegres Buitres)”. The UK release of Desesperanza differs slightly from the Colombian version, which is great news for one main reason, as “Soy el Pinchadiscos del Amor”, a highlight from the previous VII album features here. This track, using a melody built from an automated guitar sound, has one of the best conceits on the album, the utterings of a demented “DJ of love” as Álvarez lets rip with one deluded proclamation after another.
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Many fans of Colombian music will have already encountered Álvarez through his work with Los Pirañas, Frente Cumbiero and Ondatropica, but it’s here with Meridian Brothers where we really get to see his own vision of Colombia’s “tropical” music, a vision which brings in elements of the avant garde, of the occult, as well as a wry humour that makes Meridian Brothers both one of the most interesting and most enjoyable groups in Colombia at the moment.

Desesperanza is available from iTunes and Amazon

An in-depth interview with Eblis Javier Álvarez can be found in our Sounds and Colours Presents Colombia book and CD, the CD of which includes Álvarez’s work in both Los Pirañas and Meridian Brothers.

See the official Meridian Brothers website for more information on the group, and also to download many of their earlier releases.

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