Chile has had its fair share of the spotlight lately, not just because of tragic disasters such as earthquakes or miraculous events like the rescued Chilean miners, but because of the Chile’s affinity for rock, metal, and experimental music. It seems that every band is itching to play in the South American country, creating serious music envy from more overlooked places, and now Lollapalooza is making its international debut in Santiago in April 2011.
But aside from attracting a myriad of quality acts and artists, Chile is adept at creating them as well. Case in point is the group Como Asesinar a Felipes (or CAF for short), whose album Un Disparo al Centro marks their North American debut. CAF have been touring relentlessly around their home country since their inception in 2007, gathering up a small legion of fans who have fallen in love with the group’s undefinable mix of hip-hop, rock, and jazz. With Un Disparo al Centro, CAF takes their unique spin and adds in the hypnotic presence of a live orchestra, the Juvenile National Symphony Orchestra of Santiago, which provides a haunting and cinematic backdrop, an arrangement that works exceedingly well with a band that is already pushing the genre.
The tracks on the album all flow easily into each other, sometimes to the point where you aren’t sure if you’re on the next song or not. The lush violins, full-bodied cello and bass grooves, and jazz piano notes are nicely juxtaposed with DJed scratch samples, tricked-out hip-hop beats and motor-mouthed raps. If it all sounds a bit busy and overwhelming, it’s not. The effect is clean, which makes the competing musical styles fit together like bread and butter.
The title-track “Un Disparo al Centro” is a good place to start, a fast-paced vocal assault that builds with moody bass, tinkling keys, and spastic jazz drumming on top of a woman’s operatic singing. Loosely translated as “A Center Shot”, CAF’s arrow is utterly compelling. Another standout offering is the closing track, “La Puerta No Se Abre Sola”, a soaring ode to classic jazz tunes, the type you’d hear out of a World War II era radio – if the song were then blitzed with backbeats and crashing cymbals.
Un Disparo al Centro shouldn’t scare off non-Spanish speaking listeners. While the direct translation may be lost to some, the meaning and message still speaks volumes through the use of vocalist Koala Contreras’ impassioned technique and the emotional quality of his raps. Just because the listener may not understand Spanish, the point isn’t lost, and that says a lot about the tight musicianship here. This is the perfect album to throw on during a chill afternoon with friends, sipping coffee by a rainy window, or have something groovy and relaxing playing in your ears during your commute home after a long day at work. For me, it conjures up flashy images of modern life in elegant old-world cities. Like Como Asesinar a Felipes themselves, it’s that blend of old and new, classical and urban, that works so well.
The only caveat with Un Disparo el Centro is the short running time of 22 minutes. Normally lamenting the brevity of an album is a compliment, and it still is, but it works against CAF here. By the time you’re settling into the rhythm and flow of the songs, it’s all over. You’re left feeling shorted and with only two choices: You can either listen to the album again, or hope that the next release from CAF will come sooner and be a lot longer. I guess for the band though, that’s not exactly a bad position to be in.