[All links lead to Spanish language web pages, except where otherwise noted]
Difficult for you and difficult for me was what Orquesta El Macabeo told us three years ago on their now classic track, “Se pone difícil” [It ain’t easy]. And who can say now that they were wrong?
But music has the power to unite and heal us. And despite all of the adversity that conspires to make life impossible for independent artists in Puerto Rico, still they continue to write, sing, record and produce their art. And from the numerous works that we had been anticipating throughout 2013, it is clear that it was an exceptional year. Even so, it ain’t easy.
We hope that with this list, alongside other efforts to document and recognize the music that has emerged in recent years, will help to alleviate some of the day to day stresses and strains– not only for the person whose body and soul is rejuvenated by the music of a new artist, but also for the independent artist whose pocket is also rejuvenated by the support of a new listener.
13. Los Wálters – #ponteelcasco
12. MoreIra – La Ira Secreta
“La Ira Secreta [Secret Wrath] presents MoreIra as a cross between electro DJ and singer-songwriter with these six tracks taking us from chiptune [en] to intimate acoustic, the contemplative landscapes of ambient to hyperactive beats, plus a smattering of trip-hop“. Download | Review
Two main points of view can be gleaned from our review of La Ira Secreta. Firstly, the debut of soloist José Iván Lebrón Moreira (also of Las Abejas) as a composer of electronic music is both varied and demonstrative of his ability to create and inhabit various sounds. Secondly, and more importantly, with the track “Pao”, MoreIra has presented us with one of the best songs of the year – one that inspires us and fills us with hope for the future.
11. Un.Real – Épico
“Throughout Épico [Epic] we felt an undulating energy, as if floating on the waves at our favorite beach: light and refreshing but replete with a false security and unpredictability.” Download | Review
Un.real are veterans on the indie scene but still manage to mix it with the kids and the experience gained as pioneers of shoegaze on the island is felt on Épico. On each of the six tracks Gardy Pérez, Saúl Robles, Héctor Caolo and Samuel Díaz convince us that we can both soar and crash in the same dream – and continue dreaming.
10. Los Niños Estelares – Entre ruinas
Los Niños Estelares (LNE) made their name after creating some of the funniest, catchy and bizarre songs “in the era of the Internet”, however, underneath their unique humor existed harsh criticisms of contemporary society, of the invisible hands that control us, and of ourselves. Much of their original humor is omitted from their most recent – and rumored to be last – album in which Fernando and Darío present themselves as beaten but not quite down yet. Yet if amid all of the melancholy of Entre ruinas [Among ruins] a faint hope emerges, it is that the track “Satya yuga está por comenzar” has surely cemented LNE’s legendary status
9. Samalot – i n n e r
The debut solo from Fernando Samalot, with its ambient compositions and references to the indie movement, at first invite comparisons to his last work with Tachdé (the incredible Deluge, our favorite disc of 2012). But as the title implies, with i n n e r the journey is not towards distant lands but rather within ourselves. The music created by Samalot to guide us towards introspection is powerful and emanates a strength and beauty that few of this year’s albums achieve.
8. Recluso – Versus
“Versus is perhaps the most compelling and ambitious project that Recluso has offered up until now. The album is a musical reinvention of the indie panorama in Puerto Rico as it currently stands…” Download | Review
One of the most polarizing figures on the local hip-hop scene, Recluso is, at the same time, one of the most hard-working. His mask has become a symbol for creativity, commitment and ambition that goes straight to the heart of the DIY movement. Of all the projects released by Recluso in previous months, Versus best reflects these qualities and sees him collaborate with some of the most recognized musicians on the scene such as Mima, Fantasmes and Alegría Rampante.
7. ikol Santiago – Iguacas
Iguacas is much more than just Ikol Santiago’s debut album – it is a personal triumph (“Parto”), a letter of introduction (“Nocturnos”) and a diary in rhyme (“Mili”, “Mio”), all of which are impeccably produced. However, in its most impassioned moments it is a call to common sense (“Tampoco Tanto”) and the hope derived from true wisdom (“Hoy”). Or perhaps it’s hope that makes us wise
6. Orquesta El Macabeo – Lluvia con sol
“With this trilogy of albums – Salsa Macabra, El entierro and Lluvia con sol – they have exceeded all expectations and transcended our coastlines that so often feel more like walls“. Get the LP/CD | Review
The hardcore third album from Orquesta El Macabeo wants to make you dance despite your depression, but doesn't necessarily intend to relieve you of it. And although “Lluvia con sol” [Sunshower] plays the role of promotional single (and what a single it is!), imposing the group’s personality in one of its most powerful songs… the skies cloud over for the rest of the album. But while the Macabeos were exploring their dark side on tracks such as “Me repito”, “Boda” and “Macacoa”, away from the album they were achieving new professional heights after a brilliant concert at the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art and appearances at festivals from New York to France.
5. Varios (Production: Fabián Wilkins) – TRIBUTO
In 1973 Puerto Rican pop legend, Wilkins, released his eponymous album, produced by the equally legendary Tito Puente. Forty years later, Fabián Wilkins (vliot), has paid tribute to his father with one of the most ingenious and captivating projects of 2013. TRIBUTO [Tribute] features some of Puerto Rico’s most recognised rappers – Sietenueve, EA Flow, Vico-C, Chyno Nyno and Tek-One – who rhyme on tracks comprising original material by Wilkins from the 60s and 70s. A couple of months after the release of TRIBUTO, Wilkins made a triumphant comeback to the stage after recovering from a life-threatening illness.
4. Las Abejas – Lazy Views
Without doubt the most exciting and explosive rock album of 2013. Las Abejas [The Bees] have not only changed their name (previously they were known as The Bee’s Knees), but also transformed themselves into one of the most daring and exhilarating bands on the indie scene, experimenting with various styles and influences that go far beyond those of Sonic Youth.
3. Harry Rag – Sweet Dreams, Muna Lee
In his eighth edition as Harry Rag, Kristian Prieto (Alegría Rampante, Piegrande) constructs a complete dreamscape over the course of 12 homemade recordings (instrumentals in their majority) that together total little over 20 minutes. The characteristic conciseness of Harry Rag’s work invites us to engage with his musical landscapes time and time again and Lorraine Rodríguez’s wonderful cover art only makes us hope even more that they release a hard copy.
2. La Tortuga China – Bio-Lento
La Tortuga China [Chinese Turtle] is the pet project of soloist Francis Pérez, whose band Superaquello are one of the groups responsible for laying the foundations of the Puerto Rican independent scene. Bio-Lento is his first album since the dissolution of that influential and much loved band. Nevertheless, Bio-Lento was released without the fanfare and ceremony that you might expect and only came to our attention thanks to a secret link sent by text late at night (no doubt by someone who couldn’t contain their excitement) informing us of its existence just a few hours before its official launch. And who can blame them? Because Bio-Lento is a rarity. A concept album jam-packed with symbols and meanings, all to the beat of Caribbean drums. This is a story that deserves to be experienced in its entirety, fully immersing oneself in its many mysteries.
1. Fofé y Los Fetiches – Lujo Eterno
No other album of 2013 was loaded with so many pearls of pure pop perfection as Lujo Eterno from Fofé y Los Fetiches. This is a grown-up yet compelling work full of charisma that gets listeners singing along to the choruses at the top of their voice, be it in the car, bar or club. And no other figure in 2013 has shone so much light on the Puerto Rican indie scene than Fofé Arbeu who, giving himself the task of explaining the concept of the independent artist to any media outlet that would give him the time of day, would explain with a mischievous smile that he had released this album by himself. Having Fofé as one of the ambassadors of the island’s indie scene is nothing short of an honor, and although he won’t be around forever, tracks such as “La mañana blanca” and “Barquito de papel” just might be.