Album Review : Síntesis Moderna – An Alternative Vision Of Argentinean Music 1980-1990 : a ‘must have’ compilation.

The Breakdown

This is a retrospective that does the crate-digging for you and comes wired for the dancefloor. It's a sizzling combination of electro-disco, funk, post punk, jazz, new age and tango.
Soundway 9.0

Knowledgeable compilers, significant context and cracking music – these are the key components of a ‘must-have’ rather than ‘may be’ collection. Fresh onto those discerning record store racks, Síntesis Moderna: An Alternative Vision Of Argentinean Music 1980-1990 (available on Soundway Records) ticks off all these criteria without any squabbling: diligently curated by people in the zone, Argentinian DJ/ producers Ric Piccolo and Ariel Harari; capturing a time of cultural shift and creative flourish as Argentina staggered from dictatorship to democracy; and unleashing a sizzling combination of electro-disco, funk, post punk, jazz, new age and tango.

This is a retrospective that does the crate-digging for you and comes wired for the dancefloor. A triple vinyl release may sound over-indulgent (remember Yessongs) but it’s a testament to the music and track sequencing that Sintesis Moderna maintains momentum. It also keeps coherent with those primal synthesisers forming the instrumental backbone of all the tracks, whether atmospheric or energetic. Other intriguing threads give the collection extra integrity. The quirky possibilities that opened up for song-writers as the ban on English lyrics lifted in the early eighties, injects many of the tracks with a cheeky charm. Add to that Piccolo and Harari’s determination as curators to highlight lost gems or obscure classics rather than the trusty retro bangers and Sintesis Moderna gets lifted to status essential.

The mysterious, under-appreciated Carla Rabb’s gleefully sleazy ‘Sexy Films’ could almost make that case all on its own. A prime slice of sharp euro-disco with a slick Devo/Whip it beat, Carla’s automaton vocals and derisory ‘Ha ha ha ha ha..I go to sleep’ hook must be heard. Equally off most radars until now, the album features two tracks by Mike Ribas, one of those irrepressible but rarely celebrated music machines with a bulging catalogue of soundtracks, theme tunes, jingles and songs that swelled the Argentinian pop arena. While ‘Secuencia sin Consecuencias’ presents a murder/mystery vibe topped with one eyes-clenched twisting guitar break, its ‘Como Son Los Retratos’ that makes the effortless shift into slinky eighties electro-funk through wired guitar lines, loose wristed rhythmic chops, booming bass and lashing snare shots. Mix in some Herbie flavoured moog runs, Cookie Crew chants and a disco-necessary ‘Aha’ vocal fill and this edit of the original by compiler Ariel Harari takes you on an unashamedly upbeat glide.

As a collection Sintesis Moderna doesn’t completely ignore the more established names from the era but crucially documents how they responded as their country’s airwaves opened up to the new electric frequency from other territories. Popular actress, TV star and gay icon Divina Gloria parades the flamboyant ‘Mediterranee Club’, a strutting avant-disco blend of early Depeche Mode/Wham with incisive Chic guitaring, and gives the song extra gravitas with her mood switching vocal. Then there’s Donald’s ‘A Ver A Ver’ which finds the sixties pop balladeer and mainstream superstar take up the electro challenge with a youthful relish. Presented on the album as an incisive edit by Ric Piccolo, the track takes a Cameo-flavoured retro-funk starting point and ups the steamy bump and grind.

That Harari and Piccolo choose to interact with some of their selection directly through re-mixing could have skewed the ‘Sintesis Moderna’ narrative but their sensitive reverence for the music avoids being intrusive. Even Harari’s restrained edit of Toby’s cult classic ‘Ain’t That Better’ shouldn’t upset the purists as it ups the curdling funk energy and keeps the maniacal vocal of the Buenos Aires underground’s favourite Scot Robert Buchanan threateningly raw.

Toby was another incarnation of Italo-disco maestro Roberto Diaz de Vivar, a producer whose work was pivotal to the decade of Argentine music that Sintesis Moderna excavates. So it fits that his involvement trickles through so many of the cuts here: Abaddon’s steamy pop techno on ‘No Es Computable’; The Originals disturbed satirical new wave stomp ‘Vamos A La Playa’; the macho techno-rock of ‘Runnin’ Away From You’ by Ultimate Warriors; and some swaggering electro-boogie that comes with Bad GirlsDance To Dance’. If Sintesis Modrena achieves only one thing it should be to raise the profile of Roberto Diaz de Vivar onto the disco pedestal where it belongs.

It would be restrictive for any collection surveying ‘An Alternative Vision…’ not to venture to the outer fringes and in their selection Harari and Piccolo clearly aimed to keep the leftfield within their range. Sintesis Moderna covers the ambient and abstract as well as any dance directives. Jorge Lopez Ruiz brings his agile jazz funk and Zawinul melodic angles on ‘De Mama Candombe’ while the album’s closing track, Jorge Alfano’s ‘Fuego’, restores a meditative calm with its widescreen new age landscaping. Perhaps most striking is the hypnotic afro-beat of Gaita’s ‘Mueve Tu Cuerpo’. Stretching out over eight minutes, with a Onyeabor-like focus on beat maintenance and patches of psychedelic dub disturbance, it’s the sound of future DJing gold dust.

There was always a possibility that with such exhaustive ambition to cover as much ground as possible Sintesis Moderna could have felt like a heady trip without any reassuring foundation but it doesn’t. There’s variation for sure but enough common ground to tread on and a familiarity with the quirks and eccentricities that grows and grows. More than anything it’s the sound of liberation and creative release that grabs you. The compilation may be a retrospective but in so many ways it remains revolutionary.

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