Six years in the making, É Arenas’ debut album “Nariz” wears its far-reaching Latin American influences like a flower crown. And no, not in the Pinterest sense of the accessory, but in the heritage West Coast sense, where we are blessed to pluck diverse strains of music right up from the ground and need not mess with labels or clean them up too much. The solo effort from Eduardo Arenas, the bassist-singer for L.A. quartet Chicano Batman, “Nariz” represents an idea: music is made from relationships, the space between notes, the pauses for breath, and most of all, the devotion to representing oneself truly before all that gives us life.
In L.A., people have always been free to reinvent themselves and music is capable of doing the same thing, but it doesn’t have to employ all things “trending” to be successful in conveying a beautiful message. With a firm handle on Latin rock, tropicália, samba-canção, R&B and corrido, Arenas handed us his solo effort “Nariz” in November, the new album “Freedom Is Free” with Chicano Batman on Friday and now a Spotify playlist for us to hear what was knocking around in his headphones while writing the songs that appear on “Nariz.” Below is a track-by-track attempt to fit the puzzle pieces of inspiration together with his Spotify choices.
||| Stream: Escuche: É Arenas, his playlist of musical inspirations
||| Stream: “Nariz,” Arenas’ 2016 solo abum
1) “Mal Acostumbrada” — Pairs strangely well with both É’s pick “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” and the tropicalista manifesto presented in Os Mutantes’ “Panis Et Circensis” (not on the Spotify playlist but perhaps there in spirit). A defiant yet sophisticated blend of piano, noise and a hi-distortion guitar movement that revs up with heavy smoky ambience right around the 2-minute mark.
2) “Roda Gigante” — What begins as a pensive interlude soars into a long stretch of gainful noodling over triple meter, a conversational guitar moment that feels as intimate as a dashboard confessional. Shares the observational, road-wearied quality of Charles Bradley’s “Trouble in the Land.”
3) “Fantastia” — A sighing slow burner with some serious moonlight vibes, climaxing at a covetable falsetto which finds kinship with “The Family Song” from Arenas’ list and mirroring the epic build of Jorge Ben’s haunting sambolero “Errare Humanum Est.”
4) “El Sancudo” — If “Kooks” had a triangle and a bit of wobbly modulated guitar-babble.
5) “The Greyhound Dilemma” — Like track 2, this is a moment of crossing great distance in suspended animation. The voicemail is punctuated by frantic hits on the crash ride and piano waiting on the line, underscored with a sense of humor and maybe homesickness as well.
6) “Permission for Indifference” totally slaps and is probably the best song on the album, a sonic joyride of clutch harmonies, balmy atmospheric elements and a Santana-esque guitar solo with phrasing that is oh so smooth.
7) “Viva el Pan” – Imagine twisting a crank on an old music box you found in abuela’s closet, and out comes a woozy ghost from the enchanted frontier of El Topo.
8) “Passaro Atado” — A lighthearted yet compelling work of sambalanço, delving into a breathless cumbia downbeat and textural cuíca feature that compliments the playfulness of the funky refrain, echoing that of Gilberto Gil’s “Era Nova.”
9) “Lagartija,” much like Miles Davis’ pithy deconstruction of the New York soundscape in “New York Girl,” is a love song that aims to capture a wide spectrum of emotion and experience over a rhythmic loop. With its refusal to paint by numbers or see patterns, the schizoid instrumental cuts free of repetition and wields its heart like a survival instinct.
10) “High on my Own” is another love song that incorporates both bossa and bolero elements. The strings and sax-led crescendo pulls back the curtains on a harmony-driven scene, set in deep saudade. An obvious pairing with the sweetly romantic “Love Below” by Outkast.
11) “Dando Vueltas” — A nursery rhyme for old lovers.
12 ) “Seja Feliz” comes on as simple farewell of flute and acoustic guitar, joined soon by additional woodwinds and a bright electric guitar that could have jumped out of a Mark Ronson production. An excellent closer with the wistful nature present also on É’s pick “Guess Who” from Alabama Shakes.
Lastly, another one of É Arenas’ playlist picks that was absent from Spotify:
||| Also: Stream “Freedom Is Free,” the new Chicano Batman album: