El Poder de la Infancia
(Not on Label)
While it seems to happen rarely, there’s a good amount of sense to, as a band, introducing yourselves to the world with a live record. You’re likely playing out before you hit a studio, and for fans, a live recording is more indicative than a studio album of what you’ll get if you see them, well, live. The flipside, of course, is the difficulty for a newer, smaller act to properly put together a live recording of a high enough quality that’ll leave the best possible first impression. Luckily, Argentinian nu jazz/art rock band El Poder de la Infancia (“The Power of Children”) have no issues doing so on their wildly inventive debut live session.
Opener “Vasily + Manzana Arenosa” is a trip: not in the “woah, this is trippy, man” way, but in the sense that it sends you on a sightseeing tour around the world and beyond. It begins in space: reverberated guitars stretching out into the vast black vacuum as a woman delivers a message in Spanish through a static-y intercom. Shortly thereafter, however, we find ourselves in the scene of a spaghetti western, with galloping drums and echoed, washed out keys if they were the harsh heat and rays of light beaming from the desert sun. Audio of a French man cuts through: the director? Then we’re granted a reprieve: somehow, beyond all reason, there’s a tropical island in the middle of the desert. The sun still shines bright there, but shade of the palm trees will shield you, and the clear, cool water wrapping around the land will slake your thirst. The keys are almost chirpy here, like the pleasant sounds of colorful, exotic birds. Of course it’s not real. We’re still in the desert. Look! Another little oasis! Fell for it again. At the end, it grows heavier and louder, keys looping ominously for a funeral dirge, guitars flaring up like the flames of hell, and drums purposefully pounding directly forward, marching towards them. Perhaps we’ve seen everything worth seeing, and this is simply the logical final stop on our journey: perhaps we just shriveled up in the desert, everything else a dehydration-induced hallucination. Either way, it was truly the adventure of a lifetime. Because we’re dead now.
Just about any track would come across as subdued in comparison to the odyssey of “Vasily + Manzana Arenosa”, but “Buscaminas” pulls things in the entire opposite direction. Translating to “Minesweeper”, it a celebration of the same peaceful, contemplative solitude the game inspires, beginning with a deep, wistful key melody and smatterings of soft shaker. It also prominently features a sample of the “why I don’t tip” discussion from the opening diner scene of Reservoir Dogs in its mid section. The sounds from the diner itself are kept intact, which may be more important than the dialog: there’s a comforting quiet liveliness present. Solitary minded people can often stave off feelings of loneliness simply by visiting a public place to remind themselves that there are other humans toiling about just like they do, and this portion of “Buscaminas” is very reminiscent of that idea. Afterwards, there’s a burst of exuberant energy as the guitars playfully dance and the rhythm picks up tempo, rejuvenated by social exposure, before revisiting the opening melody, now less forlorn and more appreciative of time spent alone. There’s a simple transportive beauty to “Buscaminas”, a soothing, grounded optimism that’s exceptionally rare and difficult to balance. This is El Poder de la Infancia at their best.
“Crush” is the only track on the live session with a singer, with vocals from Agos Firpo, who delivers a soulful, sultry performance. This is the track with the most crossover appeal, so to speak: not solely due to its vocal feature, but its more pop leaning structure. For most of its runtime, it’s just a really well written and executed soul jazz standard, not unlike, say, BADBADNOTGOOD’s “In Your Eyes” featuring Charlotte Day Wilson. Comparisons to BADBADNOTGOOD are likely to be inevitable with El Poder, but for our money, El Poder are a mite better at keeping you on your toes and staying adventurous: “In Your Eyes” doesn’t close with a switch into Spanish jazz rap: “Crush” does.
The session ends with “Fritz Lang”, named for the “Master of Darkness” himself: appropriately so, coming off as influenced by both Metropolis and M, fusing the futuristic sci-fi neo-tech elements of the former with its bizarre, fluctuating keys, and the mysterious noir aspects of the latter with its skulking sax-replicating synths, while punchy power chords and intermittent smashing drums instill a sense of aggression and imminent violence. Like “Vasily + Manzana Arenosa”, it’s another crazy one, which becomes obviously apparent once the chaotic piano solo kicks in. Drums quicken but hit just as hard as previous, before the track morphs into a full on psychotic, psychedelic freakout breakdown.
This is what nu jazz should strive towards: tight musicianship, but more importantly, boundless creativity, experimental compostions, pulling samples, taking influence from space rock, psychedelia, tropicalia, soul, hip-hop, etc. The sky is the limit with these kids: I feel the same excitement with regards to them as when I heard black midi’s KEXP session in 2018. Incredible stuff, and beyond looking forward to seeing where they go from here.
Favorite tracks: All of them, best listened to as a whole
You can purchase El Poder de la Infancia’s Live Session here.