Named after the great tango hero Carlos Gardel’s racehorse of the 1930’s, Lunatico is the follow up from Gotan Project’s successful 2001 debut La Revancha Del Tango and again sees them returning to the formula of a little tango and a little electronica to make the tropical sound topical.
Not acquainted with their debut album, I’m told Gotan’s focus has swung more towards the classical side of tango rather than the more heavily based electronica that bestowed their debut. This would make sense seeing that Gotan returned to one of the great cities of tango, Buenos Aires, to record with a host of local musicians including Argentine piano legend Gustavo Beytelmann and vocalists such as Caceres, Jimi Santos and Cristina Vilallonga. On record the framework for much of Lunaticos tracks are formed by traditional tango patterns with more often then not electronic beats and bleeps acting merely as dressing to chivvy the rhythms along as well as maintaining their freshness. Opening song “Amor Porteno”, swaggers like a charismatic drunk with its slow portentous drumbeat and rumbling double bass and exudes all of the classical qualities of dramatic tension and swing that tango is famous for. When Cristina Vilallonga slips in with creamy Spanish vocals Amor Porteno’s flavour becomes instinctively both sexy and debonair giving the track a hypnotic authority inductive of tango, as well as a playfulness intimated through the delightful hints of surf guitar and tiny piano steps.
The blend of the minimal, classical and exotic on Amor Porteno is what the course of the album strives for but it is a richness that it never quite repeats. “Notas” sees a change of tempo with freshly clipped Metro Area style beats accompanied by spoken word from Caceres that together with the intermittent light strings give the track a distinctly Serge Gainsbourg Melody Nelson era feel to it. The sound is fresh and benefits from exemplarily clean production and yet the track displays a European character that lacks the dramatic depth of its South American predecessor leaving it to sound a little light rather than the ‘lush’ it might evoke.
sprinkling ‘dance with me’ high hats that together with noir strings and bandeon, leave us easily thinking that we might be in some casino sipping martini
It is this lightweight quality to some of the tracks that lets Lunatico, which at times is really strong, down a little and it comes mainly when Gotan implement more electronica components into the mix. Tracks like “Differente” and “Mi Confession” with the housey beats of the former and the mild emceeing of the latter, both coupled against traditional tango arrangements sound distinctly biodegradable euro-pop and though probably highly susceptible for summer dance-remixes, just don’t quite cut it. This is the dilemma here for Gotan Project — how to return to the roots of tango, to retain that rich cultural classicism and to yes simultaneously still make it sound as though Gotan Project is moving on; fresh rather than mimetic.
Gotan seem to be at their most strongest when they leave the band to play out against each other allowing for internal rhythms and styles, that are some times lost against the electronic beats, to pollinate and bloom. To Gotan’s credit much of the production is so ‘cilit-bang’ clean that whilst the more traditional compositions are evidently not cutting edge, the production exudes such a brightness that ‘pushed for boundaries’ are forgotten about in the swinging live feel. The title track illustrates this with sprinkling ‘dance with me’ high hats that together with noir strings and bandeon, leave us easily thinking that we might be in some casino sipping martini with Mr Bond.
The formula of classic tango and a little electronica does however seem to peter out a little for the second half of Lunatico. Distinction is lost through repetitive use of the bandeon, and an uneasy mix of trip hop and European crooners just creates too much varnish to the already glistening sound. I mentioned casino earlier, but with tracks like “Viguela” with its voicecodar and “Domingo” with its equally cheesy Spanish daddy sounding vocal, at times it might be not the chic of a casino but the straining sunshine of Cafe del Mar that we found ourselves sitting in. Nevertheless Gotan keep us moving and never really let us get bogged down with the occasional lulls in quality as moods and tempos are quickly dispersed between mixes.
Lunatico closes on the pensive slow tango of “Paris Texas” and crucially to the minimal and classical sound that is most poignant. We are shepherded out with patient percussion that is cut with tiny electronic ripples before giving way to some plaintive minor chords on the piano. This is short in composition and fairly understated stuff, which brings a welcome gravity to the closer. Lunatico, whilst not mind blowing, sees Gotan managing to blend a tricky mixture of electronica and tango creating an album that has a little for everybody — those who admire classical tango and those who like chilled out exotic summer beats and maybe even something for fatties.