Best Albums: Man Man, Arctic Monkeys, Balance and Composure, Obits, Cock & Swan, Tremor

This week’s best albums

– With its fifth album, quirk-rock quintet Man Man offers a “band reboot,” merging its Tom Waits-ian, trop-pop weirdness with Talking Heads inspirations, old-school soul, and other oddities.

Arctic Monkeys makes another surprise transition, this time with a slinky nightclub record that channels bluesy rock riffs from the ’70s.

Balance and Composure, among the new guard of indie-rock bands that actually rock, makes an advancement of musical and songwriting depth.

– Rick Froberg’s Obits, on its third LP, better balances its members’ blues, rock, psych, and world-music influences with the more familiar snarl of their post-hardcore precursors.

– Following a more acoustic LP, Seattle duo Cock & Swan crafts an album of washed-out ambience, breathy vocals, glitching syncopation, and pop nostalgia.

– Argentinian “folklorica” outfit Tremor utilizes human voice for the first time, offering a poppier blend of folk and electronica.

Honorable mentions

The Weeknd: Kiss Land (Republic)

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Tremor: Argentinian Electro-Folk Collages

Tremor: ViajanteTremor: “Viajante” (Viajante, ZZK Records, 11/3/09)

[audio:|titles=Tremor: “Viajante”]

Born into one of the richest musical cultures on Earth, Leonardo Martinelli knew before his 18th birthday that he would become part of Buenos Aires’ rich tradition. “It is not that I ‘choose’ music,” he says.  “I need it to express myself, to be in harmony.”

With that mindset, Martinelli founded Tremor more than a decade ago in the birthplace of tango.  The project is still being discovered in his home country of Argentina and abroad, charting new territories on the musical map. Strong elements of the music is rooted in Argentina’s traditional folkloric sounds, but Tremor mashes those acoustic instrumentations against a wall of experimental electronics and synths, creating what Martinelli calls a “collage” of music.

“There is a lot of ancient folklore music in South America,” Martinelli says. “I grew up listening to this. This ancient music is almost mystical. It is not just music; it is a part of our Aborigine legacy, so if you connect with it, it is very powerful.”

“The idea is to use these elements in a different context — to be open to explore new combinations, counterpoints of acoustic versus electronic, gentle versus rude.”

As a child, Martnelli began playing this music, studying at the Manuel de Falla Conservatory in Buenos Aires, where he learned to play Spanish guitar and percussion. Under the tutelage of composer Marcelo Katz, Martinelli immersed himself in theories of composition.

Even before this formal training, however, Martinelli was experimenting and recording at home, using samplers and throwing different electronic sounds into the mix. Never satisfied with a simple style, Martinelli grew into his own after graduating from the conservatory, immediately forming Tremor and launching his life’s work.

Tremor’s debut album, Landing, was recorded at home and released independently in 2004.  It was Martinelli’s first attempt at a very experimental sound. “On the first album, it was all about collage technique,” he explains.  “[I used] samples and [the] sound of everyday objects I recorded myself with some instruments, recording them first and then ‘reordering’ this performance.”

Martinelli confesses that this was almost too experimental. Taking the ideas and lessons learned while creating Landing, he focused on more instrumentation and stricter guidelines for his 2007 follow-up project, Defecto Primario: Suite Para Esencias Instrumentales, which translates to Primary Defect (Suites for Instrumental Scents).

This release found Martinelli utilizing separate, single instruments for melodies, rhythms, and percussion, creating massive sound banks in the studio that he then cut and matched together, seemingly at random. It was a chaotic and challenging work, but one that earned him first prize in Argentina’s F Arts Awards. It also cemented Martinelli’s reputation as a musical innovator.

It was after this success and the attention that it brought to Tremor that Martinelli decided to establish a live band as well. Previously, Tremor’s performances were severely limited in scope, with Martinelli solo on stage and his wild, confounding sounds emanating more from laptops than live instruments.

Simultaneously, Martinelli met percussionist Camilo Carabajal and keyboardist Gerardo Farez within the span of a few months. Without a specific plan to expand membership in Tremor, the three musicians started working together, and it was quickly apparent this was the direction that Tremor needed.

Carabajal is from a traditional musical family. A wild man on percussion, he specializes in the bombo leguero, a traditional drum, like a bass drum,  that is played standing up. Farez, to whom Martnielli refers as “our mad scientist,” is an expert keyboard and melodica player, though he works a wide variety of noise makers. Martinelli himself went back to the guitar that he learned at a young age and also plays a charango, a lute-like instrument from the Andes region of South America.

All this adds up to a sound that is very recognizable in its folkloric feel. There’s a sense of the history to this music, a sense of the exotic locales that bore these instruments. Yet Tremor is still a collage project, and these acoustic elements are never far from the crunching, glitching effects that Martinelli has been perfecting since he was a young man.

“That’s the main concept of Tremor,” Martinelli says. “The idea is to use these elements in a different context — to be open to explore new combinations, counterpoints of acoustic versus electronic, gentle versus rude.”

This was fully realized on Tremor’s 2009 album, Viajante (ZZK). An album that perfectly mixes and matches Tremor’s diametrically opposed styles, Viajante is more collaborative than anything previously in Martinelli’s catalog. “The band has an influence on me,” he says. “Their energy is heading me to a new direction.”

Since the release of Viajante, Tremor as been on a tear. The group has extensively toured abroad, creating an intensely energetic live show — one that often turns into a dance party. With its tribal elements and modern electronic duality, Tremor is a group that now can express itself fully in its performances.

Martinelli, however, remains a composer at heart. “I love the adrenaline of writing music,” he says, “and I love the challenge.”  In Buenos Aires, Tremor recently released an album of remixes that Martinelli has worked on for more than half a decade, entitled Para Armor. The band also is working on its next album, a project that Martinelli describes as “more new ‘old’ instruments from South America, less electronic and more uptempo than Viajante.”

“More surprising,” he notes, “is that we have four tracks including voices, which is an interesting twist for us.”

Now, ten years into its existence, Tremor is still accelerating. Martinelli’s lifelong passion for music and the brilliance that the trio has found are more than just fuel for the future. “I can’t help doing this music,” Martinelli says. “As long as we have something to say — something interesting I mean — we’ll be here. The day that doesn’t happen anymore, we’ll shut this down.”

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