Review Meridian Brothers – VII
If I’m perfectly honest the first time I heard VII (which was also the first time I had heard Meridian Brothers) I was slightly taken back. This wasn’t because it was difficult (there’s a real playfulness to this music) but was more down to the fact I’d never quite heard anything like that. The detached vocals, preaching over twisted sub-tropical grooves and the use of repetition all spoke of a group clearly playing by it’s own rules. As I listened further, picking up on the satire of many of the songs and the subtle ways in which they build, growing to love the peculiarities of the groups within, I realised that Meridian Brothers are one of Colombia’s – if not Latin America’s – most interesting groups.
Meridian Brothers however are not a group, though the name would make you think otherwise. This is the work of producer/guitarist Eblis Álvarez. Anyone who has listened to Frente Cumbiero or Los Pirañas will be aware of his guitar-playing and the unique sounds that he pulls from the instrument, but on Meridian Brothers it’s his songwriting and voice that take centerstage (there are songs here – “Devoción” for example – that barely feature guitar at all). It’s certainly a brave artist who would begin an album with “Los Falsos Reyes Magos”, a bouncy, disorientating groove with down-tuned vocals, and follow-it up with the 12-minute “Devoción”, a gothic ballad in the vein of Nick Cave if ever there was one. It’s also a beautiful showcase of Meridian Brothers at their best with raw lyrics unafraid of causing offence, and synth and guitar textures helping the song build towards it’s death knoll ending.
It’s not really an album about doom and gloom though, with songs like “El Jazz del Chupasangres” and “Soy el Pinchadiscos del Amor” uniting jubilant riffs with ridiculous situations; the second of these songs translating as “I Am The DJ of Love” with lyrics that could easily spout from a late night DJ playing the big romantic hits. It also happens to have one of the best grooves on the album, a simple guitar motif that has the same effect on you as when you hear the ice cream van outside your house.
There is a sense sometimes with Meridian Brothers that they are somehow playing with you. “Tendré Que Luchar Contra Los 98 Carniceros Que Pretenden Tu Amor?” is a great example. It’s repetitive, the vocals are tuned down untul they sound like they’re falling asleep, and yet somehow with every listen you become more and more attached to it, struck by it’s sublime charms.
It’s no wonder that Meridian Brothers are a band that divide people in Colombia, with many claiming them to be their favourite band in the country while others are completely dismissive, dismayed by the music’s irreverence. Which completely misses the point, because the whole point of music is to make a connection and sometimes that means taking risks. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail. On Meridian Brothers VII those successes far outweigh the failures, resulting in a hugely inventive, provocative and unpredictable album that will keep you coming back for more.
You can listen to VII and many of the other Meridian Brothers albums at meridianbrothers.com.
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