Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bio Ritmo on Electric Cowbell Records

Oh, Electric Cowbell Records, how do you know exactly what insane gaps in my musical experience to fill?

This single from Bio Ritmo is such another time and place, far, far away from this cold, deep winter in NY. It's Cuban, South American, Spanish...Buena Vista Social Club style...not north eastern snowdrifts of unplowed streets.
But this couldn't be on another label either, it's right in line with their borderline experimental orchestral leanings and what makes Electric Cowbell as punk as anyone who completely follows their own idiosyncratic direction.

I have no reference for when this A-Side, La Muralla could have been recorded, except for the synth breakdowns towards the end of the track which are so inorganic they have to be contemporary. The whole time they manage both this conga energy and smooth relaxed vibe, probably thanks to that warm classic organ, that's right out of the 70's leopard print lounge mix. But then again...I can't place half the percussion instruments...multiple cowbells maybe? Some kind of washboard? A gourd-shaker thing? What's that crazy snare sound? It's almost a tight soprano snare, almost kettle drum sound. Always leaving room for each instrument to cooly improvise, which goes without saying is the best on vinyl, like that stack of jazz records. I can only imagine the engineering nightmare of actually capturing this for wax, the number of instruments, the insanely varying volumes...and I'm sure they would want to perform this live, together. It couldn't possibly have this energy if they were tracked separately. It's so cleanly separated, it's almost novle at this point not to hear any noise from the recording process or the record surface. Has Times New Viking put Dolby out of business yet?

I'd love to know the story behind this band, the wikipedia Bio Ritmo entry is pretty thin, but at least I know they're nearing 20 years together. How the hell this emerged out of the Virginia college scene, I'll never understand...but then again who's still relevant... Bio Ritmo, or the Dave Matthews Band? A single can expose you to a tiny, manageable piece of history like this and then leave you wanting the backstory.

The B-Side, "Dina's Mambo" is coming from a different place than the A-Side...it's a dense mass of percussion and really screaming horn section going baritone and then frantically blasting back into the main melody. I'm definitely partial to this bassline right off the bat and far east sounding melody that all of a sudden takes a Latin turn. I really don't think it's that far removed from Tortoise at any point...they must have roots have to go at least Bio Ritmo deep, but again, I'm not claiming to know any more than the average jerk when it comes to this genre. They deserve (and it must exist) a blog devoted to this contemporary rexamination of the people working in this genre.... this single could really kick things off.
It's also working in that soundtrack kind of way...sort of wild western, electric guitar with a little echo...an Ennio Morricone scene. There's even a brief moment with a slightly off keyboard...no, let's call it loose... and it's just what this otherwise tight, impenetrable arrangement needs. Reminding you that humans did indeed create this in a massive collaborative effort and not an animatronic array at the small world ride at Disney.

Electric Cowbell has definitely carved out a very specific niche for itself and since I don't... at least I know they know what they're doing. Go get it.

Quickly approaching their 20 year anniversary, Bio Ritmo unveil their latest offering and debut release for Electric Cowbell. Bio Ritmo is a one of a kind phenomenon in today's hard-bitten indie salsa world - a band with both a healthy adventurous streak and a solid underpinning of authentic sabor criollo. In a rather hostile environment that makes getting gigs difficult and playing this type of music more a labor of love and endeavor of pure artistic expression than a simply commercial endeavor, Bio Ritmo continue to delight and amaze with both their talent and longevity, consistently pushing the envelope, tearing down walls between categories and defying pigeonholes. The A-side Dina's Mambo is a slab of tropical funk that showcases the band's playful instrumental side but also reveals a muscular cinematic swagger. Consequently there is a pleasingly Persian flavor to the proceedings (in keeping with the band's previous leanings towards minor-key tunings), as well as tasty hints of progressive Afro-Cuban funk of the 70s by the likes of Los Van Van and Chucho Valdes' Irakere. The B-Side, La Muralla, is a seemingly straight up salsa dance track with a dark underpinning that makes for goose-pimple dancing at the same time.

Electric Cowbell has an amazing live showcase at the Tribeca 92nd St Y this Saturday:

Entour Entertainment and Wax Poetics present an Electric Cowbell Records showcase with Bio Ritmo, CSC Funk Band, Cheick Hamala Diabate, Debo Band, Slavic Soul Party and DJ E's E.

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