I gotta be honest: for a big while I was “allergic” to Rock en Español. The reasons are a bit complex and not related to the music per se, but other factors. It took me a while to really warm up to any band from my own country, but then again, I was a late bloomer to most music.
With that said, after a couple of bands grabbed my attention, I seemed to notice a terrible pattern: the first album of a Mexican rock band was always great, the second one felt either rushed or soulless. Won’t name and shame, but I was very wary when Zurdok‘s sophomore album, Hombre Sintetizador, hit the stores. Thankfully, I was working as a programmer in my University radio station and we had a plethora of samplers, including one by Manicomnio Records (R.I.P.). I was manning the console in the only Rock en Español program in the whole campus and sometimes the guy with the “radio voice” was absent, so it was lil’ hapless ol’ me choosing songs from albums, singles and compilations. I played ‘Si me advertí’ and something clicked, hard and fast, in my malinchista* soul. I copied the song into a couple of mixtapes that went nowhere (ah, women), so the song obviously affected me.
So the album I had ignored had one track that clutched to my soul. What could I do? Not many options to get it back then unless you nicked it, taped it or waited a gajillion years for a kind soul on either Audiogalaxy or Soulseek to share it (only the single was available). A few months passed and it was a very rainy day in June, 2001, when I managed to find this album in the now extinct Tower Records in Zona Rosa. I listened to Hombre Sintetizador and I thought “well, that was…weird!”
My work for Ericsson was boring, so I could listen to a lot of music while reading manuals and typing shit that no one would ever use. I clearly remember one Sunday morning when the sister of a friend told me that my friend had tried to kill herself with pills and alcohol. I was in shock. I had a date with another friend that day, we saw Requiem for a dream (of all films…) and when I walked back from his house in an apocalyptic downpour, ‘…de llegar final’ magically manifested in my head. Something about that song reflected my exact feelings and once I got back home (via coffee shop and food), I really paid attention.
Zurdok had pulled out a monster of an album! I really went over the music and lyrics. Commercial rock in México seems to focus on two things: love and spitefulness. Hombre Sintetizador might have the one spiteful song (‘Si me advertí’) but it’s such a classic track (love the flanger effect at the end) that is hard to hate. Sorry, sidetracked! What really convinced me I was in front of a stone cold classic was the range in lyrics. Self-discovery (‘…de llegar al final’, ‘si quieres llegar muy lejos’), change (‘El tiempo se va I’), hopelessness (‘Tal vez’) and blast-off (not literally…I think – ‘Luna’).
What about music? Remember what I said about second albums being boring and unchallenging? Well, Zurdok went to town on this one. Simply put: Chamber Pop. I really can’t think of any other Chamber Pop album from México that pulls that Baroque/Wall of Sound approach so well as Hombre Sintetizador. The orchestral bits in ‘Luna’ are exquisite and the strings (and kazoos!) in ‘¿Cuántos Pasos?’ are spot on.
Unchallenging? Hardly. I’m gonna point out the white elephant in the room and that is the 12 minute monster called ‘Hombre Sintetizador II’, a track that seems to divide the album in two. It also divides opinions, with one camp calling it pretentious non-sense and another camp calling it an experimental collage. I think the answer is halfway, as it does get to be too much, but then again, it’s the closest anyone in México managed to pull a BBC Radiophonic-like experimental track in a major release. Kudos for that. Some of the effects and samples they create in this one seem to be leit motifs in other tracks, so I’ll let you discover for yourself that.
This album also marked a change in the Zurdok line-up. The band used to be called Zurdok Movimento, but there is an unwritten law that bands with two names don’t work in México (I call bollocks on that: Café Tacuba). That was an aesthetic change. A real change in the soul of the band was Fernando Martz exit. He was the main vocalist on their début album, Antena (another great release) and he left after recording ‘Abre los ojos’, being replaced by Chetes Garza. The change in direction from rock towards Chamber Pop was possibly more evident in Maquillaje, the last album Zurdok did until moving to pastures greener. Most members are still quite active in music, either on production duties or weaving their own musical magic carpets, ready to offer both the newbie and the disbeliever a hand into the world of Rock en Español.
Next Week: A band who is mostly known from one monster of an album has one that is much better (at least according to us). Find out next Wednesday!
*Malinchista: This pejorative term is used toward people who prefer stuff from outside of México and think of anything made in México as inferior or of lesser quality. It’s a long story…
Words: Sam J. Valdés López.
Listen to Zurdok on Spotify.(only Maquillaje, though…)