REVIEW: Dënver - "Fuera de Campo"

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Dënver - Fuera de Campo
Record Label - Feria Music
Release Date - June 25, 2013

If ABBA had grown up in Chile with Wes Anderson movies, the result might be Dënver the Santiago-based duo whose Fuera de Campo arrived stateside last week.  As the previous descriptor suggests, there's a lot that feels beguiling about Dënver's music (and the band itself, as there doesn't seem to be much out there about this album, much less things in English -- frankly, I'm still not sure there's an umlaut over the first "e" in Denver).  Their last release, the quirky Música, Gramática, Gimnasia, took on adolescence with all the sincerity of adolescents.  With tracks like "Mi Primero Oro" ("My First Gold") and "Diane Keaton" ("Diane Keaton"), Dënver seemed to be wrapping up everything they did in a conceptual package -- music designed for a particularly jubilant, quixotic gymnastic routine.  On Fuera de Campo the packaging and narrative is much more subdued as the duo seems to be reaching for a complexity of music which Música, Gramática, Gimnasia took a solely tongue in cheek.

While opener "Las Fuerzas" strikes out a different territory with a cello-heavy ballad (who starts an album with a ballad these days?), the first single "Revista de Gimnasia" is the exception that proves the rule.  The poppy, disco-beat with melodramatic strings is plucked right from Música's sonic vocabulary.  These two tracks, "Las Furezas" with its gentle humming along and "Revista de Gimnasia" with its hyper, over-the-top production line up two poles of Dënver that get worked out in the record.  On the one hand you have the sentimentality, and on the other the urge to turn everything into caricature to dump sentimentality away.

When Dënver can ride the line, this album really takes off.  Such is the case on the  7+ minute "El Árbol Magnético Ataca Por Sopresa."  Here, many of the album's disparate elements infuse into an epic container.  There's the slow, off-kilter beat of "Concentracion de Campos" mixed with a heavy guitar line before "El Árbol Magnético Ataca Por Sopresa" goes into a 21st century psychedelia-inspired guitar line with bubbly pop vocals.  By the time the horns kick in, the melange and mismatch of the song doesn't feel like it should hold together but it does.

Intriguingly, despite the quixotic nature of Música, Gramática, Gimnasia, Fuera de Campo is more musically adventurous for the group, though at first glance, it doesn't appear so.  "Medio Loca (Hasta el Bikini me Estorba," which closes out the record,  weaves a spacey guitar line with 80s downbeats before slowly building while the vocals seem to intone hypnotically.  Dënver's use of unabashedly melodic, pop music is the glue that holds these songs together.  When I say "pop" music here, I'm using the definition put forth by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats:  "One thing pop music is good for is remembering that somewhere inside us is the potential for unvanquishable joy."  If joy is the lingua franca of pop, then, as every album since Pet Sounds has capitalized on, sorrow is its necessary and powerful counterpart.  There is a melancholia which pervades a lot of the sounds on Fuera de Campo, much more than on Música, Gramática, Gimnasia and here is where the album takes a depth that the previous one did not.

The change is comprable to another Chilean artist, Alejandro Zambra, a novelist whose most famous work is Bonsai, a meta-narrative about a guy who is writing a book to a girl entitled, you guessed it:  Bonsai.  It's also been made into a decent film.

The beauty of the novel, and in my opinion what gets lost a bit in the film, is its circularity and ability to draw you into the emotional content through a narrative voice.  In many ways, this is like a pop song--the melody gets you hooked into the content of the song.  What it allows is for a song, or novel, to blindside you without you realizing it.  You're following the voice, the melody and then all of a sudden it hits.  

Zambra's second novel, The Private Lives of Trees is, in some ways, a continuation of the first.  We're back with a narrative construction, a writer who wrote a book called Bonsai and is in another relationship and reading a book to his step-son entitled The Private Lives of Trees.  If Bonsai's primary charm was its charm, simplicity and uniqueness, then Zambra, by treading over similar territory, doesn't retread in this novel but digs deeper.  The meta conceit makes the book more resonante having known the first.  So too, does Dënver's record become all the more resonant and rewarding knowing their first.    And this also allows the album's meaning to accrue.  For non-Spanish speakers, all the narrative voice you need is the melody line and then the rest falls into place.


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