Various Artists: Venezuela 70: Cosmic Visions of a Latin American Earth
Venezuela thrived culturally and economically in the '70s, and this compilation reveals the fresh and exciting experimental rock scene at a time when rock music in that country was finding its own sound.
At this point in time, listening to Venezuela 70, considering the country's current economic problems, could be bittersweet. On the other hand, it could provide a sense of hope and cultural pride. This compilation, subtitled Cosmic Vision of a Latin American Earth, is an energetic and fascinating set of songs. Its focus is on a time when Venezuela thrived as an economic and cultural giant in Latin America. The resulting music this album represents, however, was hardly some middle of the road pop music meant to placate a country on the rise. These songs are subversive, experimental, and sometimes just plain eccentric.
But Venezuela 70's eccentricities also feel like a newly discovered self-identity. In the '60s, Venezuela's music was largely influenced by British and American rock music. And while the music in this compilation still owes its beginnings to several outside influences, these musicians are melding those influences into their own sounds. The artists on this compilation sound refreshing, even now, and unique. One of the great strengths of this set is its search for variety. There's not a cohesive, national sound on Venezuela 70, but rather an overriding ethos, to build a singular yet shape-shifting scene that stands on its own.
If these songs are truly representative, then the experimental rock scene in Venezuela did just that in the '70s. This collection hones in on some key players of time and shows the various musical tangents they went off on. The set opens with Vytas Brenner, a well-travelled German-born composer who crafted songs and movie scores that melded progressive rock elements with Latin rhythms. Opener "Aragueney" shows his style well, building a bed of jangling acoustic guitars on which glides a succession of keyboard vamps. Group vocals add a distant layer, and the song's careful, patient spiral stretches out slowly, expansively, impressively. "Bang-Going-Gone", his other track here, both streamlines and mucks up that song's pattern. The song is more propulsive, built on a catchy hook and bright percussion, but there are also these oddball keys that sound like underwater lasers shooting over the track.
The album is full of these kinds of odd touches, as if the resources of a thriving Venezuela gave these musicians more studio tools than they knew what to do with. Mostly, though, the odd turns are playful and rarely forced. One of the best experimenters on the compilation is Angel Rada. Rada is an innovator and figurehead in Venezuelan electronic music. In his songs, you hear new experiments built on, among other influences, the Krautrock scene. "Basheeba" is a dreamy number, rising and falling on sweet keyboard arpeggios and treated vocals. It acts as a sort of light to the shadow of his other track here, "Panico a Las 5AM". This track is one of the most arresting here, but also one of the most sinister sounding. Horror flick keyboards groan and splash across the song, conjuring some slow-motion, backwards screening of Dawn of the Dead. Along with Rada, Miguel Angel Fuster shows some impressive flex on Venezuela 70. "Dame De Comer", his first entry, is a play on Spanish guitar, a lean number full if impressive guitar play sped along by chase-scene percussion. The cinematic feel is fitting, as Fuster was part of the burgeoning film (and thus soundtrack) scene at the time. His other entry, album closer "La Quema De Judas", is just as cinematic, but with a more Morricone-like scope. Big string sections sweep along, brushing aside some eccentric clatter at the start of the track, before yielding to the most towering guitar solo in this set.
Somewhere in between the electronic experiments of Rada and the cinematic scope of Fuster is the band Un Dos Tres y Fuera. Perhaps the catchiest group on Venezuela 70, the band melded local dance rhythms and subbed out traditional percussion instruments with more modern, electronic elements. "Machu Picchu", their first track here, is as funky as it is experimental, letting its bright horns yield to a shadowy breakdown in the middle of the track, only to come back again in the end with even more zeal. Their other song here, "San Juan, Tambor y Fuera", turns the focus more fully to the rhythm, with low chugging guitar and rumbling percussion. The flute and keyboards seems to float miles above the rhythm section, but the distance works, especially when the singing comes in and fills up all that potential space.
Even at over an hour, Venezuela 70 feels like it's just getting started. It would be great to hear more tracks from some of the one-time appearances on this set, like Pablo Schneider and Group C.I.M. Overall, though, this is an impressive and unique compilation, one that champions variety and experimentation and gives a solid glimpse into the rock scene in Venezuela just as it was coming into its own.