Tuesday, September 21, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Do the Robot Merengue

dancing_robot Growing up, my generally listened to Latin music in two specific situations: road trips and moving furniture.  After hearing the same Top 40 hits for two hours, crossing a state line warranted a scan for the local Latin station, which would be followed by upbeat car-dancing until the commercials started or we became bored.  Moving furniture required uptempo yet non-distracting tracks, something with enough energy to help you push that couch up the stairs but without the potential for sing-a-longs that might take your eye off the prize. 

Playing some Arturo Sandoval in my high school jazz band expanded my horizons a bit, opening my eyes to everything from Claudia Acuña to the Gipsy Kings.  Still, I have a nostalgic fondness for straightforward Latin music, so I’m pleased to find Trafiko on this week’s slate. 

Perhaps straightforward is a little inaccurate, as the two Trafiko selections also highlight the group’s inclinations toward reggae.  You’ll be hearing plenty of backbeat guitar this week, as well as more jazz flute than you can shake a flautist at. 

Spicing things up there’s also an electronica track from Ejay Ivan Lac.  What exactly is an “ejay”?  Find out after the jump.

The Songs

“La Magia Nocturna” translates to “night magic,” and despite not having a translated lyric sheet in front of me, I’ll hazard a guess you know what kind of “magic” Trafiko’s talking about.  (They’re talking about doing it.)  The song falls off to the side of the aforementioned Road Trip – Redecorating spectrum.  It shuffles quickly, and syncopated guitars keep you from finding a beat on which to catch your breath.  But the other, palm-muted guitar suggests something a little more restrained.  We are talking about evening courtship here (probably – again, I don’t speak Spanish).  Conventional wisdom holds that you can’t just yell at someone until they go to bed with you (unless, of course, you’re from Jersey).  You coax them onto their feet.  Flash some dance moves.  Then they might be ready for some “night magic.”  For a foreign track, I appreciate the repetitive chorus; I can join in singing a simple phrase in a Romantic language.  It’s also a very rhythmic vocal line, which makes playing this song quite fun.

I couldn’t actually nail down a concrete definition of “El Querreque,” so any Spanish speakers should feel free to chime in in the comments or email me and berate me for my ignorance.  Two things I did find: the word has something to do idiomatically with a songbird, and (according to Wikipedia) it’s part of a huapango performance in which two sings playfully go back and forth.  Well, there’s none of the latter in this song, but the spirit of the huapango style is certainly alive and well.  Trafiko plays loosely with the tempo – speeding up out of the relaxed opening while also cultivating a downbeat that’s friendly to both half time and, for lack of a better word, full time.  Someone dancing has the option to feel the beat on every quarter note or every other, and this is especially apparent in the surprise guitar solo toward the end.  Anyone who’s ever heard a Carlos Santana guitar solo will not be surprised by the sound, but it feels like a fitting way to wind down the track.  I had a harder time getting into the vocals on this one.  There just wasn’t enough music to back up the torrent of words.  As an ensemble, Trafiko sounds impressively light.  Only the guitar, vocals, and flute really jump out at you.  Unfortunately, that means if one corner of that triangle starts to sag for you, it can bring down the whole ride.

“Butterfly Robot” only sort of sounds like a butterfly robot, assuming your mind’s ear is even prepared to imagine that for you.  Save the occasional momentum-halting silence or phrase-ending low bass hums, the songs sounds derived from an algorithm.  Pitch shift here, tempo shift there.  Increase percussion by point-oh-five nanodecibels.  Perhaps “ejay” is code for “robot disc jockey.”  It’s a fine example of techno at its technoiest.  Seasoned surfers will want to ride this one on Elite, as the difficulty’s a refreshing kind of maddening.  As my feelings about this one can best be summed up as “Yo dawg, it’s techno,” I’ll leave you with a few choice comments.  Vim-Hogar thinks it sounds “like the music they’d play at Laser Quest only 10 times better!”  Lucky guy, I played my laser tag at an overgrown batting cage; they played the Offspring.  Also, JaguarFiend agrees with my assessment of the song’s cyber-authorship: “Yes, it sounds like a robot arranged this music.”  Judge for yourself, I suppose.  Just don’t say JaguarFiend and I didn’t warn you.

Author’s Note

All songs were played twice on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser character.  I, for one, am not man enough for the Elite boards, but some of the “Butterfly Robot” scores are just absurd.  Good luck to those brave enough to give that a shot.

See the above “Butterfly Robot” section for the week in comments, though PsYKoTx deserves runner-up for posting angrily in the third person.

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