REVIEW: Alex & Daniel - "Alex & Daniel"

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Alex & Daniel - Alex & Daniel
Record Label - Nacional Records
Release Date - August 12, 2014

If you haven't heard of Alex & Daniel before, don't fret. You probably don't live in Chile. Alex Anwandter and Gepe (née Daniel Riveros) are two of the figureheads of a verdant Chilean pop scene (see my review of Dënver from last year). And their collaboration as Alex & Daniel is the Chilean equivalent of Divine Fits--a bonafide supergroup--bringing together two of the most adventurous Spanish-language musicians for a superb pop record accessible in any language.

Alex & Daniel actually hit stores (in Chile at least) last year, but it's been brought into this hemisphere by LA-based Nacional Records. For those of you unfamiliar with the Chilean pop sound, think heavy synths constructed around tight song structures with a strong melodic sensibility. "Baby," released as a single for the album, shows what Alex & Daniel are about in spades. With an electronic downbeat the tune uses breathy sounds and a crooning vocal line before launching into a heavenly chorus. It's a song that has one eye on the past as much as it does on the future. Alluding to the great tropicalia tune "Baby" recorded most famously by Os Mutantes as well as Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso, Alex & Daniel's spin is straight 80s gooey goodness which will make you pump the bass and the treble in your speakers. 


"Mundo Real" ("Real World") and second song, appropriately titled "Segunda" or "Second" are a mini-medley that kicks off the record and shows how Alex & Daniel differ from their other acts and forge a unified voice. While on their own, Antwandter and Gepe are complex and intriguing artists,  unified as Alex & Daniel, the musicians rely more on the structure of the songs, cutting back a bit on experimentation to focus on structure. Nowhere is this seen better than in the transition from "Mundo Reals" buoyant instrumentation than to the more subdued groove of "Segunda." Both tracks, like just about every minute on the record is hook-rich and catchy. While Alex & Daniel will garner comparisons to acts like Phoenix, on these first two songs, the duo shows more in common with El Guincho's Pop Negro--joyfully constructing songs based on most loved pop of their youth. 

Alex & Daniel is one of those perfect saliences of a pop album. Eight songs long and clocking in at under 35 min, the record seems to spin by before you've had a chance to put your hands around it. The gentle downer of "Mejor que yo," chamber pop of "Cada vez que invento algo sobre ti," and Air-inspired quality of "Japon." For all the different influences that this album seems to pick up, it never sounds out of sorts because the sounds are so lovingly culled by Antwandter and Gepe. Perhaps the best example, and best track, on the record is "Miña" a pulsing declaration of love whose earnestness is only enhanced by the synth-heavy composition as they sing -- "Puedo morir así, no sabiendo nada más / Quiero morir así, me llevó a ti" ("I could die here, knowing nothing more / I want to die like this, lead me to you"). "Miña" is one of those delightfully transcendent songs that never seems to get old with repeated listens. Like much of the rest of the album, it's exquisitely crafted, lyrically stunning, and musically intoxicating. 

Groups and records like this are more fodder for pushing forward a wider definition of and wider musical tastes for independent music in the United States. We have a problem here -- we're too white and, largely, too male -- and the more that we continue on and refuse to open up to musical forms and countries, the more intractable our position becomes. In a piece on Girls last month, I made a similar claim wondering where "world" music was, and in an insightful comment, an Anonymous reader wrote that most world music isn't in song structures that we're used to, thus we don't tend to get it. I can understand the language barrier being an issue with Alex & Daniel; however, as a non-Spanish speaker the difference of the language doesn't pose any issue for me here. Point of fact, this record is probably more accessible and more our format than some US bands that Alex & Daniel might compare to, like Bear in Heaven. Opening your range of music is only going to enrich it and trust me when I say this, Alex and Daniel are a great place to start.

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