Recording information: 08/2009-07/2011.
It's been four years since Bogota's Las Malas Amistades (The Bad Friends) issued the playfully weird Patio Bonito. In the interim, they've been recording at member Humberto Junca's house. Their previous three records revealed a haphazard, homemade brand of indie pop with cheerfully warped cumbia rhythms made on cheap instruments. A lo-fi production aesthetic and a chaotic musical amateurism were all part of Las Malas Amistades' charm. Maleza keeps the lo-fi production intact, but they've become real musicians. They've not only learned how to play, but to compose. Their collective focus is sharper, more fully formed -- not formulaic. There are 28 songs on Maleza; nine of which are instrumentals, all of them brief. Lyrically, these songs are all meditations on the saudade, a Galican-Portuguese poetic term that is literally untranslatable but reflects deep emotion or nostalgic longing for someone -- or something -- now absent. Musically, this is the band's most adventurous recording, even if it's also its most gentle. Indigenous folk styles, tropicalismo, touches of flamenco, and even more traditional cumbias interact seamlessly in this mix. Maleza's lyrics (all of which are translated into English) are always emotional, often sad, sometimes despairing and even angry, but there is also a fine sense of irony and humor here, too. This hourlong exercise is (mostly) refined yet far from slick. The band's organic (guitars, Casiotone, melodica, budget synth, cuatro, hand percussion, and minimal drums), in-the-moment approach is also preserved. "Apocalíptica," the lilting opener, features Ximena Laverde's lovely, lonesome vocals floating above fingerpicked acoustic and electric guitars. "Si Te Digo" includes some of the best lyrics on the set -- "If I tell you something/Words of love/Don't run off with my heart/Still, if you do flee/I wish you all the best/Don't crack your head open/Take care" -- with breezy guitars, a cuatro, a droning keyboard, and Laverde's vocals hovering but off-balance between the instruments. Despite its tape hiss and brisk cumbia -- highlighted by a cheesy Casiotone in the background -- the sheer emotional frustration in "El Otrio Día" sounds nearly playful. Among the instrumentals, the interplay between instruments on "Duquesa" is especially appealing. Throughout these 28 songs there are ever-shifting moods, colors, and subtle textures woven through the pathos of various emotions on display. Because of Las Malas Amistades' quirks and insistence on immediacy, Maleza is lovely, articulate, languid, even heartbreaking. ~ Thom Jurek