Soda Stereo - Dynamo
Now this was a surprise. In fact, it was more than one surprise. Let me do some explaining.
No disrespect to Argentina or its music scene, but I, probably along with most people, would not regard Argentina as being in the forefront of indie rock music. Perhaps stereotypically, we would associate Argentina with the tango and other musical forms broadly classed as "Latin", but no not indie rock. It therefore came as a surprise to me when I discovered that Soda Stereo, who have been around for quite some time, have produced an album which is quite the piece. Contemporary in its genre, this is shoegaze, full of the lush sounds and layered instrumentation with which mention of that genre so frequently conveys. Now who would have thought it - Argentinean shoegaze? Sounds like a spoof, but I can assure you it is not.
The second surprise was that I actually managed to find this. It seems that this was the Soda Stereo release which performed most badly in terms of sales. It pretty much bombed when it came out. I had anticipated that finding a copy of this CD would be like the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack. Imagine my amazement when a cursory scan of eBay revealed a copy, and a new one at that, for purchase. And so my double surprise was complete - first that this should exist at all and second that I should be able to buy a copy.
So, having got it, what's it like and was it worth getting? Well, I have to say that it offers a distinctive look at how a well-established and well-loved genre (to me at least) has been translated into a less familiar background. The entire album, as you would expect, is in Spanish, but foreign languages have never posed a barrier to my enjoyment of any music. While many of the tracks are very much in the shoegaze mould, with layers of guitars and multiple effects, not all the tracks on the album fit that pattern.
For instance, "Camaleon" has a distinctive Latin beat and is a softer and more laid-back song than most of the others. Then again, there are tracks where there a variety of instruments used, horns and what sounds like Theremins are some of those used. The result is that the album comprises a variety of tracks with a combined texture broader than that of pure shoegaze. If nothing else, it breaks up the relentless sound which is a feature, negative in my view, of some shoegaze albums.
The albums opens with the smooth "Secuencia Inicial" and pretty quickly gets into its stride after that. The first half of the album is definitely stronger, but for a three-piece, Soda Stereo certainly know how to pack a lot in to their albums. Tracks such as "En Remolinos", "Primavera 0" and especially "La Luna Roja" deliver a great sound with layers of guitars backed up by some soaring vocal performances from Gustavo Cerati. If nothing else, the band at this point are demonstrating that they can produce the sort of music they wish to produce and to hell with the rest.
However, Dynamo may have been an album too far for Soda Stereo. It did not sell as well as their earlier, lighter albums (I have read them compared to, among others, XTC, Squeeze and Duran Duran, while this album would come closest to something like early period Catherine Wheel). After this they produced a couple more, rather patchy studio albums and then ended with live concert performances recorded as a memento. The temptation is to see this as something of a novelty, but that would be unfair. This is not aping of idols on foreign shores; this is a band (or at least members of it) playing the sort of sound they wanted to. It stands on its own merit, and I would recommend that anyone with a particular interest in the shoegaze sound of early 90's UK indie should really check this out.
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on 2012-10-06 kamedin Said:
I liked this review, even considering I'm Argentinian, Soda Stereo is in the base of my musical formation and I love this album in particular. Just some minor observations:
* Argentine culture (and for that matter, also Chilean and Uruguayan) is not "that Latin" in the sense usually (and stereotypically) assumed by foreign press, for the simple reason that most natives were killed and replaced by European immigrants very early, and there were far less black slaves here than in other parts of the continent. Add the fact that it's colder here -going from north to south, music gets less colourful, less syncopated, sadder, more serious. This is a "whiter" country, and the relation between European and native influences has always been tense to say the least.
* It's also a big country, and music changes drastically from one region to the other. Tango, for example, is a "classic" genre of Buenos Aires, whose main lifecycle ended decades ago and is now in the "general background" of musical influences -much like jazz in the US.
* Along with Brazil, Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to have a very active rock scene since at least 1969; as in Mexico, that scene has always been very active. During the last dictatorship (1976-1983), rock was an essential element of political resistance: traditional music was sustained by an industry functional to conservative stances, while most of its progressive actors were exiled (voluntarily or not). The return to democracy started a complex process of relation between these elements... Now, the fact that Soda Stereo is the only Argentine rock band with international visibility is a purely commercial one: just as an example, Cerati was a great admirer of Luis Alberto Spinetta, one of the heroes of Argentine rock; nonetheless, you might have never heard of that name...
* I think that tension between lighter and denser purposes was at the core of Soda Stereo from the beginning, just like in many New Wave bands, or in Mexican Cafe Tacuba. That said, not all of their previous albums were "light". Soda started pretty much as Talking Heads imitators; then evolved to another thing, more difficult to classify; then Cerati heard Loveless and there you have the results. Signos and Cancion Animal are albums as good as this one, albeit very different sounding.