Abandoning Genres: Federico Aubele & Bon Iver

Federico Aubele

We should consider ourselves fortunate to be in an era where our music can be categorized. The dawn of printed and recorded music allowed the world to experience music in the form of genres. Back then it was differentiated in simple terms: parlor, old folk, romantic, spiritual, classical, etc. Nowadays, artists and listeners can pick and choose what they like and stick with it. Economics vs free expression would be an improper way to look at it. A genre is really the realm in which a musician feels most comfortable, and in the process, the listener as well. For example, we wouldn’t want Bono to record reggaeton or the Crystal Method to record a bossa nova record. But to have the ability to incorporate such different genres into their music allows the artist to expand and grow in ways we’d never imagine.

Berlin 13 stands as a record of disparate genres. Recorded with enough reverb to make you think you’re in Jamaica’s Studio One in the 1970s, Federico Aubele’s music is exemplary of what “downtempo folk” should sound like. The combination of flamenco guitar, dub reggae, and folk musings is a microcosm of the lounge soundtracks across the globe.

Federico Aubele is as varied as these genres. Aubele, a native of Buenos Aires, putting out records on Thievery Corp’s DC label (ESL Records), has called this record a tribute to Berlin and the number 13. Berlin being his recent residence and 13, the tarot card for death. The formulaic, sometimes rigid nature of the record is really a homage to the genres from which it is drawn. Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue is equal parts King Tubb, Thievery Corporation, and Rodrigo y Gabriela. Aubele is a slave to the form. This is no different than a shaman is to his incantations, a priest to his mass. He is a pagan archaeologist, irreverently melding the the seemingly ancient rituals of flamenco, dub, and folk into his own tome.

Berlin 13 feels as methodically smooth as a drag of a Gaulois or a Baron de Lustrac Armagnac, so much so that this album can be enjoyed in similar contexts. The record feels tailored to late nights on balconies, intimate encounters, introspective evenings or ancient cocktail bars in foreign locales. It is a remarkably consistent record with nary a forgotten loop or misplaced guitar line, floating down a river of reverb.

Bon Iver

You would think that Bon Iver’s eponymous second recording, soon to be released on Jagjaguwar records, would be a continuation of the autobiographically pristine and calculated For Emma, Forever Ago. The debut record had all the hallmarks of a record made with obsessive precision and an artists need to exist. Being heard was not the issue. For Emma was a record that Justin Vernon needed to create for both catharsis and as a spiritual awakening. It showed a musician of trusting his talents and watching them find an audience.

That is not say that his upcoming record, titled Bon Iver, is prosaic. Far from it. Holocene includes light horns and pipes (reminiscent of Sigur Rós) mingling in a bath of acoustic and pedal steel guitars. Hinnom, TX extends Vernon’s falsetto over some organic synths, creating a stark yet warm musical canvas. Final track Beth/Rest could be the ending track to a John Hughes movie, complete with cascading piano chords, rangy pedal steel, a soft jazz inspired soprano sax line, and some 80’s guitar shredding. Instead of melding distinct genres together like Berlin 13, Bon Iver contorts the genres into his canvas drip by drip, slowly letting them sink into each song.

Bon Iver’s Bon Iver might have to eponymous because it is the actualization of what Justin Vernon might have really wanted out of this project. The intensely personal For Emma tricked listeners into believing there was a rustic, natural quality to the music. For a while it seemed he was a trying to fit the mold of a young Bob Dylan, wrapped in his emotions, or John Darnielle’s lonely lo-fi descendant. Now it’s apparent he is carving his own territory, taking bits and pieces to create his own aesthetic. Like Aubele, he is finding freedom in a pastiche held together by the threads of his voice and vision, carrying the listener wherever he wants to go.

Alec

June 13, 2011