Language is no barrier to appreciatingFederico Aubele's Panamericana.
If you don't know, and you probably don't, there's an Americansinger named Richard Cheese who puts a "loungey" spin onfoul-mouthed rock and rap music. His albums are satire - orsomething.
I first heard Cheese's music being played at a bar in Buenos Aires,where the smarmy joke was obvious to me but totally lost on theSpanish-speaking bartender and, apparently, on all the other localsthere as well. No one blinked when Cheese belted out Snoop Dogg's"Gin and Juice," with its, um, adult themes, as if he were FrankSinatra singing "Luck Be a Lady."
"He does covers," the bartender explained, showing me Cheese'salbum The Sunny Side of the Moon: The Best of Richard Cheese. Well,that's partly true - he does do covers. But a native Englishspeaker would know that there's more to it.
That's not so with Federico Aubele's new album, Panamericana, andtherein lies the problem: It's entirely in Spanish. Sure, it soundslike Aubele, a Buenos Aires native, is singing about love and lossand the other kinds of sentimental subjects that usually make upthe kind of easy-listening album he has created, but, for all Iknow, Aubele could actually be mocking me in his lyrics. Or mockingyou. Or mocking everyone who doesn't speak Spanish.
That's troubling, given that Aubele's album - a follow-up to hisdebut, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires - is so catchy. Blending tango andbolero and dub and pop in an innovative, sultry mix, Panamericanais a veritable soundtrack of today's upbeat Buenos Aires. It's thekind of album that's perfect for listening to with friendly companyand a good bottle of wine. You find yourself humming along andeventually even blurting out a couple of words, whether youunderstand them or not.
But there is good news: The album's sound accurately mirrors whatthe lyrics are saying. "The album is about missing anything thatgives you that home feeling," Aubele tells me when I meet him inWashington, D.C., which is his U.S. home base and where his label,Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, is. "I was missing Buenos Aireswhen I wrote the songs. I was born there, and I grew up there, butit wasn't until I left that I realized how great the city is.
"There's also love on the album. I was breaking up with mygirlfriend when I wrote many of these songs."
Ah. Good news. Well, not for Aubele. But, still, it's good that thealbum is, as it sounds, about love, loss, and Buenos Aires, and notabout gin and juice and mockery. And if it seems weird that you canget those sentiments just from the intonation, the sexy rhythms,and the spacey electronic sounds buzzing by in the background,well, that doesn't seem so weird to Aubele. "When I was a kidgrowing up in Buenos Aires, I was listening to early Beatles andearly Rolling Stones songs," he says, his wild mop of curly hairbouncing from the top of his tall, lanky frame. "I couldn'tunderstand most of the words, but I listened to them anyway. Itbecomes just a musical experience that way. The energy and theemotion of the music still transmits."
To get the music to transmit to his audience - he guesses thatabout 60 percent of the people he plays for in U.S. venues don'tspeak Spanish - Aubele has put a new focus on his songwriting,something he wasn't as concerned about when producing hisdub-influenced debut. As a result, Panamericana - with itsmale-female duets, its tango touches, and its deep,electronic-influenced beats - drips with emotion. "If you don'tunderstand the lyrics, then the song structure has to be better tomake you interested," Aubele says. "You have to have the riff. Youhave to have vocals that sound nice. You have to have nice guitarsounds. You have to have good beats. All that is what makes youlisten. All of that might come in through a different door than thelyrics do, but it still comes in, and you get it."