Here is a list of the best albums of 2014, originally published by the author on his blog PuertoRicoIndie.com.
When I was little I used to carefully study the year-end lists submitted by music magazines that arrived at the nearest pharmacy. Whether it was Spin or Rolling Stone or others, they provided me with one last opportunity to find out the best albums that I had missed during the year -which by then were most of its recommendations. Then, I became familiar with the names of those listed artists and the covers of their albums —years later, I would be looking for some of these classics to add to my collection.
Today, I check the listings of excessive numbers of international media, sometimes finding the same albums reorganized in a different order, with occasional changes or additions to give some character to the selection. These differences are precisely those that are looked for by those of us who have a voracious musical appetite; for discovering new music, there is no worse enemy than consensus.
That is the use of an exercise like this, although the overwhelming abundance of the Internet is gradually stealing its true charm. It is not a prize for artists -there are enough of these. Nor is it to put an end to the year. Perhaps it will serve to ignite discussion among fans and the obsessive —and haters and hipsters and trolls, and those who want to join in from any corner of the Internet. But above all, I think of the year-end lists as a service to curious ears.
That's why I have encouraged myself to share, for the fifth consecutive year, my favorite albums of the independent scene in Puerto Rico, with the hope that it serves as a guide to those who do not follow it so closely or just found out about it. Consider it a starting point for the discovery and discussion, and an open invitation to send me your recommendations.
14. Dada Berlín – Lickety Split EP
2014 ushered in a wave of female voices within punk music –some of them making their debut in the circuit, other veteran voices retaking their career with new energy– from Perfect Pussy to Ex Hex and from White Lung to The Muffs. Puerto Rico is not far behind: Dada Berlín broke into El Local, Nuestro Son and Club 77 thanks to the power and kinetic presence of their vocalist Pequeña Vera, and a handful of songs, some as sharp as necessary.
Fortunately these songs were recorded on a shared album alongside Hungary Hippos under the name of Lickety Split EP. Every time the young singer uncovers the chorus of “Siete/trece”, we live again one of the most cathartic moments captured on a song this year, in which she steals the words from the object of her criticism: “I will spill blood on your pretty face.” Definitely a talent to follow in the coming year.
13. International Dub Ambassadors – Dub Ambassador
The International Dub Ambassadors rocketed to stardom this year after they were selected to open the massive concert that Calle 13 celebrated in early December as the final date of their Multi_Viral tour, and again the next day, when the professor Inés Quiles dedicated airtime on her radio program Si No lo Digo Reviento to mark the group as “unfit” of having played in front of that audience. What was her problem with Ambassadors Dub? “It seemed that there was a kind of worship, an altar, a church to worship marijuana,” said the professor.
So now you know, if you seek to worship marijuana, this album comes with the highest recommendation of Inés Quiles. And if you want to listen a good record of classic style dub reggae, played by musicians of the highest caliber, then you have our additional recommendation.
12. A Flying Dodo Society – First Sighting
A Flying Dodo Society achieved their first installment of songs with this EP, released just before moving to Brooklyn, where I suppose that they were greeted with open arms and larger audiences, more used to Belle & Sebastian’s folk-pop than most boricuas*.
The duo, composed of Federico Ausbury and Maira Vergara, has created a wonderful world inhabited by their songs, full of melody and sing-alongs, giving a participative character (which the group was able to translate during their live show) to moments that often sound intimate and revealing. Among the highlight songs of the EP are “We Ate the Sun” and “Cake in July”, both funny, complex and full of a contagious energy that dug a special space for the group in many of our hearts.
*Another name for Puerto Ricans
11. La Futura Prole – EP
Originally from San Germán, La Futura Prole is a young band that on their first EP shows great handling of their own musical identity —a mixture of elements of blues, jazz and progressive rock, surf, punk and even carnival touches of polka. All this hodgepodge allows the quartet to explore different musical avenues without being tied to conventional song structures; however, we can perceive an affinity for melody that places the band on more pop than experimental trails. Among the six songs on the EP, “El Himno” and “Los Muñequitos” stand out, although in general there is not much to complain about here.
10. El S. – El S.eis
Samuel Vidal Quintero, the talented composer and keyboardist of the beloved salsa orchestra, El Macabeo, is also responsible for one of the most exciting hip hop albums of the year. El S.eis is his sixth and most successful album under the stage name El S.
With a good dose of collaborations and excellent tracks, “el S.eis” is both a celebration and a testament of how Quintero has matured as an artist. “No Me Mires” is a fun but politically charged song in which El S. and rapper EBRS tell us about the experience of being constantly judged by their appearance. Likewise, the album alternates between songs spanning the jangueo*, as “Pasta y Queso” and “Pacotilla”, and more confessional and dramatic songs like “Mario Bro” and “Sangre X Sangre”.
*To hang out
9. Fantasmes – Thralls to Strange Witchcraft
LAST BUMMER RECORDS
Thralls to Strange Witchcraft, the fourth album by Fantasmes, continues the exploration of atmospheric sounds into psychedelia, sometimes using the Velvets as a roadmap and taking time to engage in a groove to slowly expand that sound to new horizons. The result is mysterious, sometimes baffling, sometimes soporific, sometimes sensual.
Through these four songs, the band proves once again that they are masters of the record studio, looking for an ascetic perfection that we will be more than happy to enjoy once they achieve it. Bonus points for one of the best combinations of title and cover in a local release.
8. Los Vigilantes – Al Fin
After an exhaustive and intense European tour, the garage-rock group Los Vigilantes returned to Puerto Rico with a new album under its arm. Appropriately titled Al Fin, it perfectly reflects the group’s melodic surf punk: as contagious as melancholic, it makes you shake your body to get undressed and to celebrate too.
Towards the center of the album Los Vigilantes hide the best run of songs that they have ever shared: “Pobre niña,” which includes a fabulous sax solo by Cadillac and the honorary boricua, Sergio Rotman; the sticky and sweet and sour “Ahí ya no estoy”, the second single from the album; and “Todo me da igual” with its chorus of “pa-pa-pa-pa-pas” designed for drunk singing with your friends.
7. Sr. Langosta – Sr. Langosta
The Puerto Rican “indie” scene usually leans more towards rock sub-genres like Punk, Metal, Garage, Pop and Experimental, so it is well worth it to pay attention when a band like Sr. Langosta arises pushing our limits and moving the audience in new directions. Led by guitarist Jorge Andrés Ferreras, the trio of Acid Jazz and Funk revealed in his debut high technical musical skills with more playful trends, with a larger band of musicians willing to merge Caribbean and Latin rhythms with the influence of Classic Rock heroes like Jimi Hendrix. The production includes versions of the classics “Babe I'm gonna leave you” and “Machine Gun”, and Ferreras’ original compositions, including “Doido” a light guitar walk in the sun, shameless, and the perfect entry point to this excellent first production of the group.
6. Los Wálters – Verano Panorámico
Los Wálters are both one of the most trusted and least pretentious bands on the scene. Since the arrival of their debut EP in 2011 they have shown total control of a musical concept fully developed, completed with a strong and convincing visual identity: in summary, Los Wálters want you to dance and have a great time together. In Verano Panorámico, the group exposes their ambition behind all the dancing, having created a concept album (with a photographic essay) about giving a tour of the island, going for a walk in its fields, beaches and, yes, its developments too. The group’s energy is contagious, even when melancholy notes peek into the mix – of course, not everything is celebration and excitement in the modern Puerto Rico, but Los Wálters invite us to remember the paradisiac qualities of our environment.
5. Piegrande – Gallos Laser
Piegrande is one of several projects involving the talent of guitarist Kristian Prieto, one of the secret weapons of Alegría Rampante, also known for his solo project, Harry Rag. Gallos Laser [“cool title, bro” -ed] is the second installment of his instrumental rock trio, which includes Eden Cruz (drums) and Christian Robledo (bass) as rhythmic base, adding the participation of trumpeter Gabriel Beauchamp from Orquesta El Macabeo on songs like the delicious first single “Pro Zack Morris” and the frantic “Trapecista”.
Piegrande achieves with his music an imaginative mix of rock, jazz and prog, full of life and endowed with an adventurous spirit. It is easy to imagine actors (or the same band) doing twirls and stunts when listening to it.
4. Buscabulla – EP
KITSUNÉ / DISCOS DIÁSPORA
Buscabulla was undoubtedly the musical revelation of 2014. When we invited them to play their first show in Puerto Rico just over a year ago, surely many doubted the choice —they had two or three original songs by then, but since the beginning it was evident that Raquel Berríos and Luis Alfredo Del Valle had found a special magic.
2014 was very generous with the duo in terms of press and exposure, and after completing this EP with the help of star producer Dev Hynes (Blood Orange, Solange), they managed to attract the attention of French label Kitsuné, who was commissioned to digitally distribute it. And it's no wonder, because, as cover letter or display, the four themes that compose it —and especially the single “Caer”— show a level of musical sophistication that we rarely perceive in an emerging project.
3. Various Artists – Indie Martin
People say that the best ideas tend to sound as crazy as perfect, and a compilation of covers of Ricky Martin by artists from the independent scene certainly fits the description. Indie Martin served as an excuse to invite some of our favorite bands to explore their pop side, but we never imagined how much we would enjoy diving headfirst into the commercial waters of Puerto Rican radio.
It is clear in the genuine joy that Las Acevedo transmit in their version of “She Bangs”, on the personal reading that Ardnaxela does to “La copa de la vida”, in the energy channeled by The Wálters and Los Nadie —each one in his own way— to modernize “Dime Que Me Quieres”, and the feeling that overflows from the interpretation of “Bella” by Stonetape. And so with the 16 songs that compose the whole Indie Martin. The result is not merely a tribute to the star, who for decades has made us shake our bon-bons or mourn with his wrist-cutting ballads, but a love letter to music, an acknowledgment that it unites us and compelling evidence of the musical talent that lies in our island —gradually more exposed to and recognized by the world.
2. AJ Dávila – Terror Amor / Beibi
NACIONAL RECORDS / BURGER RECORDS
At first listen, Terror Amor and Beibi seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum. While Terror Amor showed songs with a more polished, more thought out and conceptualized production, Beibi is an exercise in lo-fi, with a distorted sound, anchored more in punk and grunge, with hints of psychedelia, and those voices passed through a filter of darkness that have become the signature of AJ Dávila and Terror Amor. Moreover, the former was promoted to a mostly Latin American audience, while the second was sold directly to an Anglo-Saxon audience.
Those differences in perception and possible audience, however, probably have more to do with matters of record labels and the black magic of musical marketing than with anything else —because if it comes to songs, Terror Amor and Beibi are two sides of the same coin. Despite their superficial differences, which reveals the true genius of AJ, a musician-boxer who does not need gloves or coaches on his corner to throw punch after punch after punch after punch…
1. Campo-Formio – Here comes… Campo-Formio!
DEAD MOFONGO RECORDS
The first full-length album of our favorite power-trio, Campo-Formio, as an introduction, announced with its title the arrival of the band, when in fact, for those who follow the local scene closely, it was a fulfilled promise. Over the four memorable EPs —edited under its own label, Dead Mofongo Records —Fernando Quintero (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ricardo Pérez (bass) and Diego Bernal (drums) developed a muscular rock songbook, agile but heavy, attractive and inviting —and above all original— turning anxiety, frustration and neglect of contemporary boricua youth into a frantic attack that left some scratching their heads and others ready to join the cult.
In Here comes… Campo Formio!, the trio pulls its musical influences into new territories, building with the history of punk and post their own vocabulary of sounds, portraying with them a world full of bad milk brats, punks, thugs and bastards —each song a polaroid of one of these reprehensible characters, either the “Dr. Rakún”, the “Rata Azul”, “Brutus”, the “Barón Barón” and even the ascetic monk “Pelagius”. The bleak lyrical content is balanced by moments of real beauty —guitars taking flight at the end of “Teenage Wrinkles”, the instrumental passages of “Pelagius” —that help to round out the album content and nail down its classical album structure.
Here comes… Campo Formio! lends itself to be heard —somewhat anachronically— from start to finish, designed with attention to detail as an experience that is better appreciated in its double vinyl edition, with a production as polished as the talent of its three musicians. While Diego and Ricardo show again their rhythmic prowess, both willingly surrendering themselves to their shaft and motor roles, Fernando is documented along these 12 songs as one of the most versatile and interesting vocalists in the Iberoamerican scene.
So, if you were not already aware, Campo-Formio arrived. And to them we say: Thank you for coming!
And 6 More…
…that also deserve your attention.
Calle 13 – Multi_Viral
The fifth album in Calle 13’s discography and the first under his own independent record label —El Abismo— works as a more existential kind of sequel and a little more universal concerns than the now classic Entren Los Que Quieran (2010), and includes among its genre experiments a couple of outstanding songs (“Adentro” and “Multi_Viral”) in the group’s discography. | Spotify
Enrique Vélez – Interpreta… EPs
And now, something a little different: Enrique Vélez, guitarist and leader of the tropical music project Guateke, returns with a series of EPs in which he interprets scores composed by the masters Morel-Campos, Schubert, Bach and Chilesotti on his acoustic guitar. Directed by the talented producer Hector “Stonetape” Hernandez, these recordings show great appreciation for the history of music, far beyond the local scene. | Download
Jamsha – Melasófico
Jamsha’s fourth “cyber-album” stays true to the formula established by the reggaetonero with his buddy and producer, Eggie Ruz: funny, irreverent, uncouth and armed with an arsenal of classic styles, retaken with affection by two scholars of the history of the underground. Decades ago, Ruben DJ told us about his grandmother, and now it's up to Jamsha to complain about “The potholes on the road”. | Download
Recluso – Fania Beats
One of the most prolific hip hop artists within the local scene, Recluso focused on producing sets of beats during 2014, adding two additional volumes to his series of the Tabla Periódica, another installment of his Mango Sound System, a collaborative album with the cuatro player Mario Cancel and this —our favorite of the bunch—, a tribute to Fania Records’ music. | Download
Samalot – Luz EP
Samalot delivered a handful of songs in 2014, including this small but powerful EP, produced by Stonetape. The former member of the experimental quartet tachdé, continues the spiritual exploration that began on his first solo work, i n n e r, and now projects from the inside out with a spectrum of environmental sounds, tribal drums and studio experiments. | Download
Similar – Reverso
Similar turned out to be a somewhat restless project, with several significant changes to its lineup. This is also the case with Reverso, the product of a band in transition, seeking to forge new paths for its vision of instrumental and experimental rock —but catchy and accessible too. With special attention on the production, the group shows us a more muscular and progressive side. | Download
Alegría Rampante • Álvaro Díaz • Balún • Bando • Bodega Satellite • Calma Carmona • Cardigan Academy • Cezgo • D-Cent Jerks • Diana Fuentes • Eden Cruz • fAi • Former Astronauts • Habish • Harry Rag • Hungary Hippos • Índigo • Isaac Álvarez • Jean Nada • Jorge Chafey • Juan Pablo Díaz • Juventud Crasa • Kitsch • La Experiencia de Toñito Cabanilla$$$ • La Academia • Las Cucarachas • Los Lácteos • Los Manglers • Los Nadie • Los Nervios • Los Pepiniyoz • Lust Era • Ma Catharsis Et La Mort • MadSkeptic • Matotumba • Mesmer • Misa E’ Gallo • Mr. Peligro • Nébula • Nosotro • Nutopía • Ongo • Piélago • Pirulo Y La Tribu • Prettiest Eyes • Pulpo • Rebecca Kill • Robertito Chong • Surge • The Difficult • Turista • Tus Ídolos • Un final Fatal • UnochoSkeptic • Woebe Guns