Issue #128: Rebeldes by Álex Anwandter
August 27, 2018
Released On December 3, 2011
Released By Feria Music
I’m roughly a second to third-generation Mexican-Scottish-American, give or take a grandparent here or there. Consequently, cultural identity is often something from which I feel greatly disconnected. I can’t really speak Spanish, can’t cook any Mexican food, don’t take part in any meaningful Mexican cultural traditions, don’t listen to Latin music. So when “Despacito” started blowing up last year, imagine the guilt I felt when even the average white guy was listening to reggaeton and I wasn’t! I was gonna listen to Latin music from now on, I told myself, no matter what it takes! A few google searches later, and I’d stumbled across Álex Anwandter and his first solo album, Rebeldes.
The irony of finding this album while looking for Latin music is that it really isn’t Latin pop in the sense that most people would think of Latin pop today. It’s not Tejano, reggaeton, or any other recent Latin trend. Instead, Rebeldes takes its cues from older genres, especially disco, house, and ’60s pop music. Not to stereotype my own people, but this genre blend is probably because Anwandter is openly gay, something that might still be considered radical in many parts of Latin and South America. The opening song of Rebeldes, “Cómo Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo?” (or “How Can You Live With Yourself?”), is a modern gay anthem without the pandering or preaching of other recent attempts, taking a pointed, loaded question meant to shame and instead using it to soundtrack a breathless celebration of queer identity. It’s possibly the most infectious song of the album, full of percussive forward movement, luscious synth pads, and classic disco strings.
At a fairly brief nine songs, Rebeldes is a pop album without filler — something altogether refreshing in our music-streaming culture of interminably long albums of 20+ songs (looking at you, Drake). And like most pop albums, the songs mostly deal with love, often lost, or in the process of losing, or worried about losing in the future. Anwandter’s music feels very much comparable to modern pop chanteuses Robyn and Carly Rae Jepsen, taking love’s trials and tribulations and crystallizing those feelings into pop diamonds, from “Como Una Estrella” to “Tatuaje” to “Shanana.” No clearer is this thematic core than on the title track where Anwandter sings over jangly guitars and beating synths: “Quiero estar contigo para siempre / Dos personas nunca son iguales para siempre” (“I want to be with you forever / Two people are never the same forever”) — it’s a simple yet devastating insight, full of both hope and fear for this love. This album isn’t just calls to the dancefloor though; ballads like “Tormenta” might lack the same rhythmic propulsion as the more upbeat songs but are just affecting and compelling.
When I set out to find more Latin American music to listen to, I wanted to conform to what I thought Latin American identity was. Instead, I found the music of someone who rejected that conformity and made something new out of his own Latin identity.
David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
Shimmering emissary of the exuberant Chilean pop convocation.
If you don’t speak Spanish, you have to do a little digging to find out that the cheery dance-pop song that opens Álex Anwantdter’s Rebeldes is actually a Trojan horse that, once past your defenses, delivers a tough message. The lyrics of “Cómo Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo?” (or “How Can You Live With Yourself?”) are an anguished protest against the torture and murder of Daniel Zamudio, a young gay man with whom Anwandter was acquainted. This tragic story was national news in Chile, perhaps the equivalent of the Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard cases here, causing an uproar and an update to the country’s hate-crime laws. That’s a lot of weight to put on what sounds like a confection, but Anwantder gets away with it through his expert layering of keyboards and rhythms, possibly overcompensating with some synth parts that threaten to turn into “Pump Up The Jam.” So it’s maybe a little cheesy, possibly even retrograde, but you gotta give the man props for using his not insignificant celebrity to get Chileans dancing in solidarity against hatred. And that’s only one song; the album as a whole improves musically as you listen through its nine tracks. The melodies grow more original and complex and he seems to get more confident in these shiny surroundings, which were a bit of a change from his earlier career as a member of Teleradio Donoso and Fother Muckers, both of which were scrappier sounding, with more live instruments. Finally, at the end of the album we get two masterpieces. “Shanana” is an amazing exercise in delayed gratification, chugging along nicely for over 80 seconds before hitting the blissful “Shanana” chorus, which seems to emanate from a cloud of pure beauty. The lyrics, as far as I can tell from Google translate, are more conventional lost love stuff, although there is the line “swimming in ketamine isn’t so bad,” which adds a little edge. The last track, “Fin De Semana En El Cielo” is even better. Borrowing a little white noise and guitar arpeggios from “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” as well as hinting at its ascending chord structure and mood of desperation, Anwantdter finds the perfect ending for Rebeldes. Strangely enough, by going further back into rock’s past, he winds up constructing the most immediate and indelible song on the album. Funny how post-modernism can work that way!
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
In 1983, ABC Motion Pictures introduced people to fear on a scale most North Americans had never known before. Billed by the station as an all-too-real scenario, The Day After was the story of otherwise normal lives cut short by a nuclear war. Mid-film, the loves of modern Americans ended in a flash of deceivingly beautiful white light, vaporized cities with no witnesses left to feel sorrow or loss. Those who remained tried to survive underground in bunkers for the many years of radioactive contamination that would follow. It left us unsettled in ways that I think are just manifesting in our generation today. I always wondered what would become of people who went into those bunkers and were cut off from all they took for granted. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism but I thought about how groups would be culturally forked from what they knew. Rediscovering them would reveal bizarrely familiar but imperceptibly odd schisms of culture. Now imagine living in 2011 Chile and being a gay singer-songwriter. Part of your identity is already underground. In a similar manner, there’s an ominous power that you understand only vaguely, but which represents an unrelenting threat to your safety. Your day-to-day is supposed to go on as normal but always under the ambiguous but very real knowledge that your safety and certainly your lifestyle are a potential trigger for violence. Rebeldes, the sophomore album by the Latin American pop star and actor Álex Anwandter, walks this precarious line. Its sound is an uncanny ’80s synth-pop throwback recalling early Depeche Mode, Yaz, or Information Society. But far from being progressive and pushing boundaries, it laments, as though Anwandter hasn’t been exposed or simply ignores social and musical progress that’s happened since. He remains there. If you listen — if you really listen — it’s darker and more melancholy than his breezy vocals would suggest. These are not love songs as much as songs of love under pressure. He’s a balladeer posing as the writer of gay club anthems. There’s a brave, palpable, and very modern sorrow in his pleas which masquerade as the trite whimsy of an era of pop that many have left behind. It’s got a funky beat, and you can cry out to it.
Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage
When I did the crazy thing of playing a couple of songs simultaneously with a few tracks off Rebeldes, the resulting sound was obviously not pleasant but I did it with a deliberate purpose: seeing if my first mental inclination and recollection to a few choice dance pop hits of the 1990s was absurdly off base or if there was reasonable sonic synonymity to be heard. The hyped up downbeats I remember from ’90s dance party staples like Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam” (from the first ever volume of Jock Jams — apologies to anyone I’ve made feel old just now) and Amber’s “This Is Your Night” aren’t an exact match with Anwandter’s songs — particularly the aesthetically similar, “Cómo Puedes Vivir Contigo Mismo?” which is just a few clicks slower — but the past decade’s signature instrumentals are undeniable, despite Rebeldes only being from 2011: wide tone, sustained, laser synth keys (“Como Una Estrella“); dynamically prominent, digital bass and kick beats (“Tatuaje,” “Que Se Acabe El Mundo, Por Favor“); snare snaps created by way of classic drum machine fills (“Tormenta,” “Fin De Semana En El Cielo;” twinkling, high pitched, bell tone garnishes (“Shanana“); and string flourishes galore. Still, despite being covered in what sounds at times, like the ultimate assortment of dated dance pop hallmarks, little instrumental inclusions like lines of organic, classical, Spanish guitar on tracks like “Que Se Acabe El Mundo, Por Favor” and the recurring wave of crackling distortion on the decidedly slow dance style closer, take us out of the very decade heavy long enough to recognize this album isn’t meant solely as an exercise in sonic nostalgia.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
One of the most beautiful aspects of music is the transcendence of language, demographic, experience, and other barriers that can be found in a perfectly timed track or album. Without being able to understand his words, Álex Anwandter found a willing and heartfelt listener through his sophomore album Rebeldes. With almost no authentic instruments on the album, Anwandter manages to orchestrate a musical atmosphere of love, nostalgia, regret, and sadness not reliant on traditional methods. Melodic and harmonious, there’s a softness to the machines Anwandter brings in his soothing voice. The music follows a notably pop pattern, with the standard kinds of verses, choruses, and bridges that speak to music lovers detached from any expected vehicles. Listeners are pulled back into the ’80s, a neon-drenched, braces and Scrunchie laced middle school dance where your crush was dancing with another classmate. Effervescent and frilly at its highest, heartfelt and endearing at its lowest, Rebeldes reminds us all that truly displayed emotion can pull the people farthest away from you into sturdy arms, whether it’s to dance or cry.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
A heartfelt ode to the counter-culture spirit the youth will always champion.
Guess what? I finally found out where C&C Music factory and Technotronic landed after their respective early ’90s bubbles burst. They absconded to Chile to collaborate on the production of Rebeldes with Álex Anwandter. No? That’s not at all the case? Well, it sure does sound like it. Rebeldes pulls our favorite elements of early ’90s house, techno, and even trance, while mixing in the lush sensibilities of our favorite fluffy pop ballads from the ’80s. It’s every hipster’s dream. Do you know that fantasy that every nerd has where he meets a smoking hot chick that’s also a nerd and plays video games? Well, this record is what you would play while playing video games with said nerd-hottie. Most of the album leans toward uptempo, energy-filled jams that would feel right at home in any Urban Outfitters. I happen to gravitate toward the two slower ballads, “Tormenta” and “Fin De Semana En El Cielo,” which both provide much needed changes of pace and vibe. Overall, this is a great date record. You can throw it on, and totally not have to worry about any weird, awkward lyrics, yet you still know he’s singing about love. That is, unless you happen to be on a date with a Chilean girl. And that’s when you break out the Technotronic.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
I am so delighted by this album, which proves that language barriers are no match for the unstoppable drive to get out on the dance floor. By now, I’ve learned that OYR albums that sound like they were made yesterday were actually made in 1961 and albums like this one that sound like they’re from the early ’90s are probably fairly recent (this one is from 2011) and I just love that. It’s a sort of pop cultural sensory deprivation chamber where the disorientation is half the fun. But no matter when it was made, Rebeldes is an excellent album. To my ears, it sounds like what I would hear in a dream where I was back in Nebraska in 1991 sitting in my mom’s Suburu Justy as she was driving me to Tae Kwon Do practice. The radio is on, and it’s all sounds and singing styles that I recognize, but, because it’s a dream, I don’t understand any of it. Once again, deliciously disorienting. Of course, the next step in appreciating this album would be to look up the lyrics and read along with them as the music plays, occasionally glancing at a translation, but for this week, I was content to let the music wash over me, not understanding the words, but for sure understanding the songs.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
To say that this summer has been busy is an understatement for sure. It’s been a whirlwind of work, trips, concerts, festivals, pool days — basically everything that makes summer what it is. This album really is perfect for taking that step back, taking a breath, and just slowing things right down. I’m not normally one that would listen to music in another language, but for some reason, the language honestly didn’t even really stick out to me that much. The music in this album is just so ethereal and uplifting — it is the perfect way to round off a summer that has been full of ups and downs. My personal favourite track, and the one that evoked quite an emotional response (in a good way!) was the second track, “Como Una Estrella.” The music on this track is just very chill, and easy going, and it instilled in me a feeling that everything is going to be okay, that going into this new season will change things as they do every year, but things will also be okay. I have no idea what the lyrics are actually saying, but music is universal to me, and sometimes going with your gut feeling pays off. I love the use of different instruments in that song as well as the classic ’80s vibe and great background beat. This was a really great album to round off this week with, and summer too.
Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast
I was born in 1986, so while I existed in the ’80s for four years, I don’t have any real memories from that decade. My only real connection to it comes from outsized pop culture of the era — Scarface or Purple Rain, say — and current throwback or period-piece media — American Psycho or E•MO•TION, for example. I bring this up because Rebeldes has a real throwback feel to it. For me, it’s essentially the same feel as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game that was a large part of my high school years (and, naturally, takes place in 1986). This commercial in particular was everything to me during the summer and fall of 2002 leading up to the game’s release. Now, I should point out that Rebeldes, near as I can tell, has nothing to do with the theme(s) or tone of Vice City. It is certainly odd, then, for the former to remind me of the latter purely by some sonic details. And yet, there is a roundabout way of explaining it. You see, Rebeldes shares some of Vice City‘s ’80s flair in its production: pastel colors, heartbeat-strobe synths, and cocaine dust. (That last one might be a stretch, but it works as a punchline so I’m going with it.) Which is to say: it’s certainly an easy record to like purely from a musical perspective. Álex Anwandter has a wonderful voice, and several melodies are earworms. It’s fun, it’s breezy, and it’s summery. In a sense, it’s the kind of beautiful weather I imagine Chile has year ’round. And much like Vice City, it’s a world I don’t mind revisiting now and again.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
Brilliant in dance anthems & emotional ballads, profound in bold declarations of love & brutal criticisms of bigotry.
A few years back, I had the opportunity to interview the formerly Richmond-based musician and artist Nelly Kate. I became aware of her music in the run-up to the 2013 release of her wonderful Ish Ish album, which I’d recommend highly, but part of our interview concerned an art installation she’d worked on with another Richmond musician, Dave Watkins, called “Interstitial Transduction.” Kate was interested in the spaces in between the areas that garner attention in an urban landscape, and it stands out in my memory as my introduction to the term “interstitial.” I’ve turned that word over in my mind a million times since, because those overlooked spaces are everywhere — especially in music. I bring all of this up because Álex Anwandter strikes me as especially adept at populating spaces in his music that could have easily been ignored or taken for granted. Sometimes it’s just a quick transitional accent that celebrates the moment when the verse turns into the chorus, as is the case in “Como Una Estrella.” (Note the single reverb-y handclap.) Other times he’s filling sonic spaces that relate more to arranging — layering sounds in a way that you might feel more than you consciously notice. I love the guitar that hangs back in the mix after the chorus in “Felicidad,” adding rhythmic emphasis without demanding your attention. The more you listen to Rebeldes, the more you notice this kind of thing, which is just how I felt while walking around downtown Richmond after speaking with Nelly Kate. I think that’s one sign of a truly brilliant artist — making you see beauty in the world where you hadn’t seen it before.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
Sometimes you have to go on with your day as if everything is normal even though you are in an awful mood. I’m having one of those days today. Everything I need to do just feels like way too much and I feel like I’m going to collapse under the weight of it all. There’s a persistent sense of impending doom hovering over me that I haven’t been able to shake since I woke up this morning. And were I in a better mood, I might hear something completely different in the objectively quite cheery Chilean disco album by Álex Anwandter that I’m writing about right now. As it is, though, the minor chord melodies seeping through songs like “Felicidad” and “Tormenta” feel like they’re speaking directly to my mood. I don’t know if it’s actually there, amid the ingredients from multiple eras of dance music — the symphonic flourishes of the best mid-’70s disco anthems; the techno-pop bounce of ’80s faves like Technotronic; the soulful feel of late ’90s R&B, and more — but what I’m hearing is a heartfelt expression of empathy for the struggles we all spend our week dealing with. Is Anwandter reaching out through some Saturday-night floor fillers to those attempting escape but finding themselves dancing with tears in their eyes? Or is it just that everything sounds sad when I feel the way I do? I’m not sure — but I’m nonetheless forming a bond with this album and its emotional melodies, even as the beats continue to tell me that I should get on the floor. Maybe I’ll be ready for that tomorrow.
Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground
Dream pop enthusiasts rejoice because this week we’re talking about Álex Anwandter’s 2011 release, Rebeldes. The album is tender, poignant, and it swells in all the right places, picture perfect for quiet nights in and long night drives to nowhere in particular. Personally, I’d love to see a huge tour with Álex, Phoenix, and Arcade Fire. While I sit here wondering when my indie pop dreams will be realized, I can’t help but fall in love with every synth line on this album. The music has clearly been so carefully blended to keep any element from sounding too harsh or invasive. The result of this effort is this warm sweet wave of pop goodness that I haven’t heard anyone pull off as perfect as Álex in a long long time. So what’s not to fall in love with? As I type this I’m being lulled into a sleepy comfort by Álex’s gentle crooning on “Fin De Semana En El Cielo” and I’m not sure how much more I can say before I’m too relaxed to form another coherent sentence. In short, if you’re looking for something new to add to your more chilled out pop playlists you need to get your hands on this album.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
I had a hard time coming up with an interesting take on Rebeldes. Something ingenious but also appealing enough that would make you, the reader, want to give this wonderful record a chance. I tried really hard, mostly because the absurdly high quality of this record almost demanded I give it my absolute best effort. But I kept coming up short. I’d put on the record, jot a few lines down, and then forget where I was going with it around the half-way mark. Somewhere between my 15th and 20th listen (seriously), I realized it was pointless. I wasn’t going to come up with anything profound to say about this record, because it’s not a record you’ll need to think about — it’s a record you really need to immerse yourself in. My wife and I recently fell down a rabbit hole of Robyn’s music, thanks in part to the reemergence of Taran Killam’s hilarious reenactment of the “Call Your Girlfriend” video. That song in particularly was everywhere — there’d be days where I’d listen to it ten times at work, twice on my way home, and then I’d walk in to my wife humming it while cooking dinner. The song just sucked me in, but Rebeldes? Rebeldes yanked me in… hard… with the force of every pop quality I’ve come to seek out over my lifetime. In Rebeldes just like “Call Your Girlfriend,” I wasn’t going to be able to beautifully dictate all the things that make it a great piece of art. I could point to little things here and there that were particularly impressive, clever, elegant, and innovative, but if you wanted any type of unifying thought or idea about why this music was special, you’re coming to the wrong person. Put this music on and I just become lost. Lost in the effusive synths and elastic vocals, adrift in the sea of Álex Anwandter’s melodic genius. I could point to specific moments as hallmarks — “Como Una Estrella” has quickly become one of my absolute favorite songs of this decade while the title track is a foreign yet familiar ode to contrarian spirit in us all — but I feel like that will be me revealing my own crudely constructed map of this musical space. My hope is for you to get lost just as I did and draw your own map of the surroundings. I’m sure it will be different than mine, but I’m also sure it’s an experience you’ll not soon forget.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
The Indescribable Wow by Sam Phillips
Chosen By Doug Nunnally