It’s December! The magical time of year when music journalists everywhere put on their thinking caps and start making “Best Albums of the Year” lists. As I was trudging through the process of putting together my own, I came to the realization that a big majority of the 2015 albums I loved feature female vocalists, either as solo acts or as part of a band. I decided I’d put together a playlist made up entirely of female vocalists. At first, I thought I’d keep it strictly to 2015 releases, but more and more I found spaces where older songs fit perfectly, like puzzle pieces. Despite a few touches of hardcore and a couple experimental pieces, I stuck mostly with crowd-pleasing rock and pop of recent-ish vintage.
So, with the acknowledgement that gender is a social construct that limits and oppresses all of us, that’s what you’ll hear in this installment of the increasingly sporadic podcast portion of the site. A man finally shutting up long enough to let women do the talking (well, except for the rambling intro, and the few occasions in which I pop in, say a thing, and sulk back into silence– but I assure you these are few. Promise).
Here’s the tracklist, with links to each band’s website (or bandcamp, or soundcloud, or really whatever comes up first when you do a quick Google search in a hasty attempt to put this post together). Be sure to seek out and support them. They’re awesome.
There was so much I wanted to put here. I had to stop myself at 30 tracks. Music is the best.
I was a teenager when I first arrived in Buenos Aires, a jumbled mess of anxieties and aspirations. It had been a particularly grueling trip, with an inordinately long layover in Caracas Venezuela. I was past the point of exhaustion. It took everything in me to drag my enormous travel bag, and my own languid self, along the halls of Ministro Pistarini International Airport. I remember thinking it was too crowded for 2 AM– my very first taste of Argentina’s bizarre schedule. I pushed through the throng to find my Mother, who was living here at the time. We took a taxi into the city, which sparkled like no other city I’d ever lived in. We went into a café on Santa Fe avenue, the street that has in one way or another framed my existence in Buenos Aires ever since. I thought, “this feels right.”
I lived in three different hostels during my first full year in Buenos Aires. Hostels were quick and convenient– I wanted to avoid committing to a lease as I was unsure exactly how long I’d be in Argentina. They also provided ample opportunity to socialize with folks from all over the world, which was extremely valuable to me as a gregarious young dilettante. The first hostel I lived in was called El Gauchito Urbano, a boho-chic little dwelling on Gallo street that was run by two cantankerous middle-aged women. In actuality, they were probably around the same age I am now; I always perceived them as middle-aged on account of their tendency to react to just about everything with a kind of muted exasperation, as well as some gnarly skin damage. I remember this hostel had a huge living room filled with dozens of pillows. Me and my new international buddies would have regular asados and rent movies every day; I barreled through a considerable chunk of the Criterion Collection during my first month there, thanks to my French cinephile roommate Aliocha. I fraternized with people from all over the world, hooked up with pretty girls with nothing to lose, and dove head-first into the filmography of Andrei Tarkovsky. It was my teenage self’s idealized version of what adulthood should be. I was insufferable, but I was having fun.
I was eventually kicked out of the Gauchito; this was in large part due to a convoluted personal conflict between one of the owners and my Mom, who stayed over a bit too often for their comfort (her own apartment being in the outskirts of town) and whose domineering personality clashed with their own. I drifted around town for a few weeks, wandering in and out of the lives and apartments of my Mom’s friends. This was a weird period for me, the closest I ever came to calling things off and flying back to Colombia. The comfortable familiarity I’d settled into was replaced by this disquieting sense of unease that permeated the entirety of my days. Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back and live off my Dad’s money until my mid 20s? What was I trying to accomplish here? I was thrown into what I can now identify as a deep depression; I was despondent and slack, often asking myself why I was even there at all. It’s kind of silly to think of now, but it really did feel like I had lost something substantial, and though I assured my Mom that I didn’t mind moving around a bunch while she found me a place to live, it all felt pointless. It was my first Argentine summer, and the city smelled like piss and soot.
Curiously, when I think back to this time, one of the things I remember most vividly is the sound of keychains. During these few weeks, I was often clutching someone else’s keys after they’d begrudgingly agreed to let me crash at their place for however long. For some reason I remember the loud clang as I slammed them repeatedly in and out of their keyholes (it didn’t help that Argentine keys are oversized monstrosities that I still, 10 years later, struggle with). At this time I was listening to The Postal Service’s album a lot. I often dismiss that album now, and haven’t listened to it in forever, but at that time it felt enormous. I remember listening to “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” from a rooftop overlooking Coronel Diaz street, and that sentiment– “I am a visitor here, I am not permanent”– resonating strongly with me. I felt like a ghost, wandering in and out of the rooms of an enormous, empty house.
For a brief period afterwards I moved into another hostel– a more professional, industrial affair, with enormous, cavernous rooms and high-vaulted ceilings, with beds stacked upon beds in order to fill every square inch available with some part of a paying tourist’s body. It was the Hi Recoleta Hostel, also located off of Santa Fe avenue but further downtown. At the time it felt like a move up, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was a real shithole. This place was significant, though, as I made some of my most enduring friendships— and lived through some of my strangest adventures— during my brief time there. As crappy as that place was, I’ll always look back on it fondly. After a particularly unnerving security breach, and feeling like I’d overstayed my welcome, I packed up and moved into a place called Kilometro Cero, in the neighborhood of Congreso– probably the farthest I’ve ever lived from Santa Fe ave. Kilometro Cero was populated by what seemed like thinly sketched cartoon characters, but it quickly started feeling like home. This place also yielded some wonderful friendships and zany misadventures, but after several months I started to feel like hostel living was getting to be a bit too rough for me– too loud, too debaucherous, especially after I got a job and started college. There are a number of indignities that you can put up with when you’re just kind of gliding through life like a slovenly layabout, but start taking their toll when you’re dedicating so much of your energy to employment and education. Shortly after my Mom left Argentina to go back to Colombia, I started looking around for apartments, and for the next 9 years I lived in a few different places– sometimes with a roommate, sometimes by myself. For the most part, I stayed close to Santa Fé avenue.
October 26th 2015 marked my ten-year anniversary in this city. This city that has seen me though a series of absurd situations that defy conventional logic, a number of wonderful relationships that have allowed me to grow into whatever the heck I am now, and the polar extremes of exuberant joy and abject depression. It’s a city that remains mysterious, abrasive and majestic to me, and with which I routinely fall in and out of love. It’s still a constant source of inspiration, and of challenges. And though I’m not entirely certain how long I’ll stick around– I’ve been feeling that old pull again for some time– I can say with all certainty that Buenos Aires resonates with me like no other place I’ve ever lived in, and everything about it has become inextricably connected with who I am. Wherever I move, this is still where I’ll think back to when I reflect on some of the most significant events in my life. It is, and will probably forever be, home.
So hey, happy anniversary, mi Buenos Aires querido. Thank you, and I’m sorry, for everything.
Another installment of the podcast portion of the site finds me in my old stomping ground, and oh boy do I stomp. I have a complicated relationship with Barranquilla. It’s a city that I’m not sure I would ever visit were it not for the several wonderful humans who somehow choose to live in it. But every time I’m back, I find myself surprised at how much I’m enjoying it. This particular trip was ostensibly to attend a family wedding, but the fact that I’m choosing to stay for a few weeks instead of bolting immediately after the nuptials tells me that I like it here much more than I’ll admit.
An added bonus? My sister Cristina flew in from New York to hang out with us for a few days. And since we’re so seldom in the same place at the same time, we decided to sit down with a few beers and have ourselves a little podcast. We discussed our upbringing, the pressures of coming of age in this barren tundra, and the horrific traffic accident that nearly cost her her life a few years ago. She also told several embarrassing stories from my childhood and teenage years, including some that I came very close to cutting out of this podcast because goddamn are they cringey.
I asked Cristina to come up with a list of tunes to play on the podcast. Here’s the tracklist for this episode:
Chet Faker- “I’m Into You” The Weakerthans- “Reconstruction Site” The Cure- “Cut Here” The Avett Brothers- “The Perfect Space” Alt-J- “Breezeblocks” Coal- “Stay”
Listen to our conversation by clicking on the embedded player below.
One of my favorite things about birthdays is the amount of ridiculous childhood pictures that my grandmother– who is an avid internet user and way more active on social media than I am– always sends me. Like the above. Standing next to my sister at some playground in Bogotá, draped in denim and sporting an oversized PEACE SYMBOL around my neck. This might be the most 90s picture of me ever taken. And I love it.
It was my birthday this weekend. It’s not anymore. Twenty-seven was a weird year. I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the rock star cliché, but of course that would require me to be a rock star first– and as of right now, I am only one in the eyes of my mother. In celebration, I decided to put together a podcast with some of the tracks I’ve been digging for the last couple of weeks– some loud, some quiet. Mostly loud. It’s really good. But don’t take my word for it. Listen.
This is a well-worn cliché, but to me, New York City sounds like a tenor saxophone. Whether this is an abstraction derived from the cacophony of traffic noise that fills its bustling streets, or just years of internalized media depictions, or my own experiences as a fan of live jazz, Mingus Mondays etched permanently into my brain and thus forever associated with the contours of Lower Manhattan– I’m not sure. But New York City sounds like a tenor sax. Barranquilla also has a sound: it’s a faint vallenato, playing in the distance from some neighbor’s kitchen window. Buenos Aires? God, it’s been so many things over the decade I’ve lived here. These days, though, it’s the music of María Pien.
I found María Pien by perusing the “free” tag on Bandcamp. This is how I’ve found a surprising amount of great music, further disproving the myth that the only people interested in giving their music away for free are generic, interchangeable electronic “acts” (usually one dude with a laptop and some cursory knowledge of Ableton) or equally generic and interchangeable Flatbush punk bands. María’s first album, La Vuelta Manzana, was offered as a free download on the aforementioned service and became an instant favorite; a lovingly hand-crafted collection of whimsical summersongs and rain-soaked ballads– even a disconcertingly anachronistic tango– all zestfully performed by an artist who (at least sounds like she) is having the time of her life. The clear highlight for me was the track “Fantasía en G Para un Pueblo al Sur del Mapa“, a sheer masterpiece in folk-pop craftsmanship taking the form of a love letter/compassionate plea to a beautiful city that too often behaves like a petulant child, and whose considerable charms can be easy to take for granted. I raved about the track to everyone who’d listen, played it on a podcast, and included it in the mix I made for the Summer Mixtape Blog Ring over at In Pursuit of Expression. It’s just a stunner of a track.
One of the drawbacks of downloading free music from Bandcamp it’s that it’s never really free– you know the adage about free lunches. Like many services that purport to be free on the age of social media, its true cost is in the value of data aggregation. By downloading the free content, you agree to be quantified and put on a spreadsheet for further peddling and who knows what else. True, it’s a minor nuisance– a tour announcement here, an obnoxious PR e-mail there– but there’s something I miss about being able to sample some music and politely excuse myself from any further contact with minimal hassle. Sometimes, however, it pays off to not click that inconspicuous “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of every one of these automated e-mail templates. Like when María Pien sent an e-mail announcing the follow-up to La Vuelta Manzana, which was already written, recorded, mixed and available for instant streaming. Like a surprise gift from an old friend.
The name of María Pien’s second album is Malinalli. It is, at first glance, a more modest album than its predecessor: fewer songs, shorter length, sparser sound with more conservative arrangements. But what Malinalli truly is is a subtly magnificent album, more cohesive and self-assured than La Vuelta Manzana, and a huge leap forward for Pien. It is an exercise in songcraft, made up almost entirely of classical guitar-based ballads, and aside from its exuberant opening and closing tracks, an altogether more laid-back affair. Doffing the intricate architecture of her debut, letting the songs stand on their own as minimally adorned compositions, reveals an emotional depth to Pien’s register that her previous work only hinted at. And while there are plenty of moments that match the doe-eyed playfulness of her debut– the nursery-rhyme syncopation in “El Muerto en la Heladera”, the delightfully unfurling title track, the Luis Buñuel fever dream that is “El Sapo”– it’s the unguarded moments of unabashed melancholy where this album shines brightest. The melodic elegance of songs like “Madera y Mano” and “Una Palabra” (posted above), as well as the impassioned sincerity in Pien’s delivery, make these songs the clear highlights of the album.
“Una palabra bastó para traerte hasta aquí”, María Pien sings in the aforementioned track. One word was enough to bring you here, as if the distance between us was but a story. As if your presence was the springtime. There’s a song on La Vuelta Manzana titled “Spring Inside“, a lovely Joni Mitchell throwback arranging disparate strands of memories into a vivid portrait of a fast-fading spring. María Pien is very interested in seasons, in memories and in spaces; her songs exist in the convergence of the three. There’s an unspoken stillness to even our most uproariously joyous moments, a quiet understanding of the significance of these moments, that runs like a lace between the people who share in it. It flies off of us like specks of mercury, onto the streets and buildings and people that surround us. We mark these things permanently with the ghost of our revelry, and the passage of time colors them a melancholy hue. A song like “Una Palabra” taps into this emotional space expertly, complementing a stately classical guitar chord progression with a tasteful bed of strings, the song resolving like a memory slowly fading in the horizon.
María Pien ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to finance the special-edition physical release of Malinalli. Good timing and dumb luck resulted in my contribution being the one that pushed her past her goal, and my donor reward was that she’d record a cover of any song of my choosing. I suggested Tom Waits’s Blood Money ballad, “All the World is Green”, and María delivered a stunning version. Check it out below.
Hi! Happy New Year! Yes, it’s pretty much mid-February already, but we haven’t seen each other in so long. What’s going on? You look good. Let us dedicate 2015 to becoming a less-terrible version of ourselves.
I spent the last few months traversing the American continent, spending an inordinate amount of time in airports and finding new and exciting ways to get drunk. My travels took me to many adventures, several of which I will post about in upcoming weeks! No, I really will. Promise.
The tail-end of my trip was spent in my hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia, where I stop by every year to recharge and brace myself for the inevitably devastating shock of daily life after weeks of international hedonism (… yeah, okay, that might be overstating a bit, shh). As has become a tradition, I sat down with one of my very best and oldest friends (oldest as in time spent together, not as in age– although he is getting up there), Mr. Jorge Bedoya.
Mr. Bedoya and I spent a good hour-and-change talking about the perils of Barranquilla hipsterdom, the drastically different levels of energy between his two Golden Retrievers, the wickedness of penguins, and the similarities between our hometown and the city of New Orleans. As per usual, this conversation took place over several glasses of whiskey, so our palaver gets progressively more slurred and less coherent.
Last time around, he gave me a list of songs to feature. This time we collaborated on the song selection, picking three songs each. Here’s the playlist:
The Color Fred- “If I Surrender” Orange Gold Red- “Wayward” The Cars- “Just What I Needed” Archers of Loaf- “Harnessed in Slums” Babyshambles- “Penguins” Diana Krall- “I’m Not in Love”
You can listen to this conversation– and the accompanying tunes, which are nothing to scoff at– by clicking the embedded player below.
Oh, and psst! As mentioned, this episode features a song by Orange Gold Red. If you dig it as much as we did, be sure to hit up their Soundcloud here.
Also, this is the penguin gif we reference. Isn’t it adorable? It’s totally adorable.