At the beginning of “Let The Festivities Begin” there is a rhythm. Bongoes and hi-hat tap out a groove over the kick drum’s backbeat. The guitar glides in smooth as polished glass, echoing like those surf-rock records from before the Beatles got big. There are no vocals, and the guitar’s melodies don’t matter so much as the way they roll over the rhythm section, looping back on themselves like ouroboroses.
Los Bitchos’ debut album is made of rhythms and textures; of movements and the manner of those movements; of verbs and adverbs. Music is almost always described by what it is – good or bad, one genre or another – and what it does is neglected. Roland Barthes said in“The Grain of the Voice,” that music is too often “translated into the poorest of linguistic categories: the adjective.” But music doesn’t just exist, like a table in an empty room. “Let The Festivities Begin” proves that it also works.
It’s a record made, more than most others, of rhythms. Opening track The Link Is About to Die fades out and I Enjoy It marches in, beat pounding and thumping like a boxing match underneath the splashing, shimmering waves of synths and guitars. The groove shifts over the pulse and the track swerves in a new direction, a move that must throw Los Bitchos’ live audiences like a pro wrestler from one dance to another. The pulse, however, doesn’t so much as quiver. It stays solid and steady as bedrock.
That’s one of this album’s signature moves – sending out the guitars to explore the spaces around the pulse, to shape the grooves out of one, unwavering beat. If music is anything at all, then it is a web of relationships; a network of instruments and tones, chords and melodies and rhythms, and players and listeners, all connected by their actions.
The 11 songs on “Let The Festivities Begin” often feature only a fistful of chords that loop constantly back on themselves. One chord progression makes up the guts of FFS. The following track, Tropico, is made entirely of 5 chords. Los Bitchos let the melodies and riffs serve the rhythms, instead of creating beats to support the hooks. Here, all the action, all the vital connections, are in the rhythms.
It isn’t sufficient to describe a relationship only in terms of what and how it is. What it does, and how it goes about doing it, are vital to a proper understanding of its nature. Change of Heart starts off in the old, echoing cumbia style. Then the breakdown comes in and the guitars call back and forth to each other over the tom-toms and cymbals, before the beat picks up hard and drives like a punk in a bulldozer to the song’s close. Getting at the marrow of what makes a song like this brilliant requires seeing how each of these parts work together, not just in describing and adding up the sum of its parts, and there are many other records that would benefit from the same treatment.
Teenage Kicks is a perfect pop song. There are very few music writers who would dispute that. But why is it perfect, when it’s made of nothing more, and probably less, than most pop songs? Why are Smells Like Teen Spirit and Anarchy In The UK and “Funhouse” still the world’s most brilliant, most effective, recordings of angst, many generations after they were immediately relevant? It’s in how they work, both as albums, in the musical sense, and as one side of the relationship between themselves and their listeners.
That is something that has not been truly explored: the relationship between music and the listener. That “poorest of linguistic categories” is too limited, too still, to go into the ins and outs of the relationships between music and its listeners. The old descriptions still have their place in our writings and conversations, but now, with the advent of streaming and internet reviews, debates, rages, and dialogues, the listener has more power than they had in, say, the ‘60s, and gaining an understanding of the power between them and their record collections (or playlists) requires shifting our language from nouns to verbs – out of stasis, and into action. The songs on “Let The Festivities Begin” make that point clear as cut-glass, for it would be pointless to describe an album as alive as this one in words that don’t move.