Between 1850 and 1900, Buenos Aires’ population increased exponentially, from 100,000 to almost 1,000,000. The majority of the immigrants came from Europe, bringing with them the typical run of possessions, cultures, and sociological predilections. Mashing cultures together, and then reconstructing from the post-collision remnants into newfangled fancies of cultural appreciation.
Federico Aubele’s chosen album title, Granhotelbuenosaires comes across as the self-aware aftermath of a sociological compression process. The particle accelerator slapping of the words into a concrete integrated ideology, into one dominant concept splattered noun, comes close to explicating Aubele’s stylistic outpourings. A sort of mad grab of multiple musical idioms to create a veritable visual pastiche which sounds a lot like a Friday evening filled with tango dancers, dark coffee, and hot brume.
Though like the story of Buenos Aires itself, Aubele’s recording comes from a diffuse, if somewhat sloppily eclectic correlation with the outside as much as the inside. Like his hometown, his musical background links directly to Europe, from years studying the fineries of music composition in Paris. Complicating matters, his youth was spent listening to everything but what his native land offered. Not until he finished his residence in Paris, did he discover Astor Piazzolla, and subsequently found his own voice.
Discussing “own voice” in relevance to Granhotelbuenosaires becomes a complicated dialectical discourse on like and not like. The album could be described as “dub”, though the accordion’s presence hinders glibly passing it off as Augustus Pablo derived drivel. It could be pawned off as modern Piazzolla, but then Aubele follows a post-modern prickly path, with pop-beats and arcane lyrics his composing hero wouldn’t quite touch with a proverbial mile-long pole. You could probably call it “3rd world Beck”, though such labeling might be degrading to both artists, specifically to Aubele’s perceived earnestness and Beck’s Warhol whimsies into tropicalia.
Through the multifarious compare and contrasts, Aubele comes through as intriguing, even if it feels like a pasting together of parts. Explicitly, his acoustic guitar parts scream of Argentina as much as studied sheet music. The layered flamenco strums often serve as the counterpoint to the ongoing groove movements, the melding of tenebrous beats and capacious Laswell soundscapes. Just when the whole thing locks into some amorphous mold, the guitars signal a change, continuing the concepts but never wearing the beats thin. Which can so often spell doom to such down-tempo, lounge nods, even in the most melismatic moments.
But it’s the vocals, explicitly the poetics on Granhotelbuenosaires which instills uniqueness to a project that could be easily pigeonholed. The album opens with “Pienso y cuanto mas pienso / Yo me pregunta mi amor / Cual es la forma que tengo?” which has a pregnant sensuality like the tango, like the rhythm of the streets. But then, these aren’t completely conspicuous lyrics. They slide and slouch, ducking from the light into the recesses of a street cavity. You can hear vocalist Sumaia leaning back, then almost embracing the microphone, noncommittal between the hip-hop typical and uncertain sensuality. The foreign sensuality then carries the tracks, overrides the somewhat standard dub and hip-hop constructions and then extends them; arguably breaks them apart into a bounty of particles.
And here it sounds more than just foreign to me, even with my seventh grade Spanish ears. Granhotelbuenosaires acquires a cool sense of mystery. It has a secret; it has a surreptitious, slinking self that I can’t quite latch on to despite my imploring and attempts. A sweaty something as I sidle down a side street with candy colored cars and pastel apartments that can’t be quite denied. Try rationalizing, comparing, and compromising and searching for understanding, but the phrases inexorably roll off of the singer’s tongue and caress the night sky. The cover art comes close to the source, but pulls away; Aubele’s mirrored motion face refusing to meet the camera lens head on. Turning his head to the side, away from the focal point, just like his music.