In their latest adventure, Salvadora Robot, the Meridian Brothers’ signature skewed sound has evolved into a complex futuristic cosmos. Galaxies collide and merge in this overwhelming burst of rhythm and electronic-infused cumbia. Not that we would expect anything less. Masterminded by producer/composer Elbis Alvarez, the Meridian Brothers produced several albums of gleefully warped cumbia on Bogota’s ultra-indy La Distritofonica before signing to the U.K.’s Soundway Records and, well, continuing to produce gleefully warped cumbia records.
With a sonic sensibility based on the meeting of psychedelic rock and folkloric explorations with more traditional strains of Colombian pop, the Meridian Brothers’ aesthetic reflects a merging of the organic and inorganic. While instruments create most of the sounds heard on the record, analog and digital samples like mosquitoes, birds, and vintage video-game tones are peppered throughout the songs. Jarring, nasal vocals weave with a layer of playful drums in “La Tristeza,” launching the listener into outer space on a bed of detuned and effects-ridden guitars. The song conjures the eerie sound of a UFO inexplicably appearing before fading away into another dimension just as suddenly. Meanwhile tracks like “Baile Ultimo” evoke laser gun fights and bobbing jack-in-the-box dreams. While rhythm and tone vary between tracks, the album generates a unified effect, exposing the listener to the psychedelic soundscape of fear and fancy that lies at the heart of the Brother’s sonic world. Avant-garde and playful, Salvadora Robot is a maze of surprises, a hall of mirrors ready to trip you up at every turn.
In the past, Elbis’ musical innovation and groundbreaking compositions have been obscured by a style that could often seem overly silly, perhaps even self-effacingly so. While the shock of the new did much to ease the often difficult listening of albums like Meridian Brothers VII, by 2012’s Desesperanza, the formula had begun to feel a little tired. Yes, this was strange and bizarre, but at a certain point, the listener could be left asking “So what?”
Refreshing and challenging, Salvadora Robot opens up the eardrums for a thorough and much-needed scrub-down, a travel through the outer reaches that leaves the world sounding brand new. This is music seemingly designed stretch the listener’s understanding of the bounds of expression. Yet despite this, it is also remarkably groovy, with the band operating deep enough in the pocket to pull off its many outre moments. Full of brilliant playing, remarkable production, and unique songwriting, Salvadora Robot is a genuine move forward, one that builds off the band’s recurring motif of human and robot, organic and inorganic, to blast far, far off into the cosmos.