Gotan Project’s debut album La Revancha Del Tango brought an amazing new sound to the world of electronic music, and to the world of tango. By combining the beats and production of club with the accordions, strings, and melodies of tango, the international trio created a form of downtempo that was more intriguing than relaxing, and more organic than mechanical. To follow up this album, the group — which consists of Philippe Cohen Solal, Edouardo Makaroff, and Christoph H. Muller — has released Inspiración — Espiración, a collection of “new tracks, remixes, & funky tangos” assembled by Cohen.
Despite the disparate influences and unusual concept, La Revancha Del Tango is, first and foremost, a music lover’s album. The tricky rhythms and smooth playing keep the intellect busy while the chill-out groove and lovely sounds relax the body. Inspiración — Espiración, though, is essentially a DJ’s album. While the music has a similar vibe, the art here lies in elements such as the sequencing, the re-mixing, and the selection. While the new album’s certainly interesting, Solal doesn’t succeed as well in his DJ role as he does in his earlier tasks.
Still, fans of Gotan Project’s earlier work should be pleased. This disc comes off like a radio station from the future, dedicated to playing only pieces related to Gotan Project and their putative circle. Solal, working the early-morning show, opens with two more traditional tangos that have influenced him. The first track, “La Cumparsita” is a mid-tempo number by Cerioti, captured on vinyl in 1973. Astor Piazzolla’s “Cité Tango” follows so smoothly that the two could have been blended together (which, in a sense, they were). After these two, there’s a bit of jolt in the mood. Solal drops in “Round About Midnight”, in which “Gotan Project meets Chet Baker”. Gotan Project provide a remix of Baker’s slow rendition from the ’60s, staying mostly out of his way except for some Nini Flores accordion. This version keeps it so smooth that those early-morning listeners might nod off. The track picks up for the last few minutes, but the change provides only another jolt; it’s the gimmicky type of shift that Gotan Project have avoided so well on their tracks.
After the Baker re-mix, the album heads off in a variety of ways. “Confianzas”, a Gotan original, gets the disc back on track with its heavier drums and suspenseful music. Actress Cecilia Roth (from Lucia, Lucia and All About My Mother, among others) reads a poem in a way that’s affective whether you speak the language or not (at least I assume on the former count). This track confirms the notion that Gotan Project need to be at the front end of musical production.
For one of the album’s other highlights, the group calls upon another act known for its dexterity in blending styles. Calexico takes over Revancha‘s “La Del Ruso”, but instead of re-mixing it, they re-perform it. Adding a Western feel and well-placed horns, Calexico completely makes this song their own. It’s Mexico meets Argentina by way of Paris, and it couldn’t sound better.
One other track stands out on this mix. Domingo Cura’s “Percussion (Part 1)”, in Solal’s words, “sounds so modern and so minimal!” He calls it right — I can easily imagine an artist like Timbaland picking up a beat like this one and using it on a 2005 release. It’s an odd fit on this collection, as it doesn’t sound like rest of the material, but it’s not too far off. As far as oddities go, it’s a nice choice. After this track and its Calexico successor, Solal brings much more contemporary and less unusual selections to the mix. Each of the tracks are solid, especially the Antipop Consortium version of “El Capitalismo Foraneo” and its political rap, but the album devolves into the feel of outtakes and one-offs and b-sides. To return to the radio metaphor, we’ve hit the late-night part of the show where the DJ does whatever the heck she wants. It’s not unpleasing; it’s just not tight.
Although Gotan Project doesn’t keep the music going for the full length of this release, they do keep things interesting. The songs don’t always flow as well as you’d want on a mix (such as when the Antipop track segues into a ’40s number, “Tres y Dos”), but each of the numbers of fine examples of whatever it is they are, be it traditional tango, contemporary re-mix, or something altogether different. Inspiración — Espiración isn’t truly a Gotan Project album, but it’s not bad as a holdover for the next release, and it’s probably not similar to much that’s out there.