“Patras” pays tribute to Bajofondo’s love affair with rebetika, the dark, urban type of Greek folk music the band finds so connected to tango. In between several tracks (and, sometimes, in the middle of them, as in “A repechaje”), the ambient sounds you hear are all sound bites collected by the band while on tour, adding to the album’s personal feel – Presente is the band’s “road movie,” its most visual album. By the way, if you’ve never seen Bajofondo live and Verónica Loza’s bombardment of images on the screen (a key part of the show), Presente will take you there: the music itself is full of images that turn into songs and vice versa.
As usual, instrumental numbers and vocal songs simultaneously take you back in time and into the future, but Presente is the most personal Bajofondo album. For the first time, all songs in Presente were written by Bajofondo as a team and there are no vocal guests on the album. It is a monumental effort featuring a monster ensemble of eleven violins, four violas, three cellos (all directed by Alejandro Terán), plus three stand-up basses, woodwinds, percussion, and even a theremin. The rich string arrangements are the heaviest and most sophisticated in Bajofondo’s history, but far from the only highlight: guitarist, programmer, and co-producer Juan Campodónico shines as a singer in “Lluvia,” and Adrián Sosa (the drummer who gives Bajofondo’s rhythm its human traction) debuts as a lead vocalist in “Cuesta arriba.” Gustavo Santaolalla himself takes a star turn in the vocal department (something he knows a little about, as those aware of the early history of the vibrant Argentine rock scene well know). His heartfelt rendition of “Pena en mi corazón” and his multi-layered a capella feast in “Oigo voces” (where the Beatles meet The Beach Boys by way of Astor Piazzolla and Buenos Aires 8, a legendary a capella tango group of the ’70s) are two classic moments that rank among the best tracks ever recorded by Bajofondo.
“Olvidate” (“Forget it”) illustrates Bajofondo’s unique ability to blend sophistication with more mundane, popular cultural manifestations. It starts with a pulsating beat where disco meets bandoneón and then, when least expected, Bajofondo transforms into a chorus that might have come straight out of an Argentine football stadium. The tongue-in-cheek bragging has Bajofondo boldly declaring that “even the dead” dance with them, with a bragadoccio that owes as much to hip-hop as it does to tango itself.
As Santaolalla said, “Presente is a trip that takes you from the most magical to the most epic urban moments.” It is a rare amalgamation of the sounds and identities of Argentina and Uruguay, two of the most similar peoples you’ll find anywhere, and the alchemy works because each side’s unique individuality (and global spirit) can be felt in the music. It is both a regional and universal sound, and this album finds the band on top of its game.
The others in the band hold their own: Javier Casalla’s violin is still adept at having fun with a traditional milonga or fooling around with a solo from outer space; Gabriel Casacuberta’s precise bass is the other side of the band’s rhythmic pulse; Luciano Supervielle’s subtle but lethal classic/contemporary approach is a reminder that the piano, after all, is a percussion instrument; and Martín Ferres’ soulful bandoneón the best symbol of a rioplatense youth enamored with both tango and rocanrol.
Presente means that, ten years after its debut, Bajofondo is still here with its relevance intact. But Presente (which also means “gift” in Spanish) is an unclassifiable bag of goodies meant to be heard from beginning to end; there are several stops in the way, but you always keep moving. Ultimately, Bajofondo makes Bajofondo music. The album was made in the studio but, if you still haven’t had the chance to see what they’re like live, Presente is a good start. Even if you’re dead.