GUATEMALA: Mil Palabras Con Sus Dientes - Bohemia Suburbana
Subgenres of rock galore - Bohemia Suburbana demonstrate their supreme talent
It has become a cliché among myself and Danny that whenever I listen to a rock album that was released after 1990, I always end up comparing it to the works of iconic American grunge band, Pearl Jam. Whatever Danny might say, this is not because I am some mad Pearl Jam fan. Though I like them a lot, I have only ever really listened to their debut album Ten, which, granted, is a masterpiece, but aside from lead singer Eddie Vedder’s collaborations with Pakistani superstar Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the soundtrack of the astoundingly impactful death penalty drama Dead Man Walking, I have not delved much at all into their later work. However, it is obvious that because their debut album was such a phenomenal success, it clearly has influenced so much that came after it. Vedder was not the first to combine a leonine roar of a voice with rock music, but the way he sang in conjunction with the characteristic slurred vocals of grunge music, the powerful guitars, and sparse but effective instrumentation meant that they connected with audiences across the globe, in turn influencing a wide range of bands across the globe. One of those bands was for sure Bohemia Suburbana, and while listening to Planeta Hola, which is the first song on their second album, Mil Palabras Con Sus Dientes, those influences were seemingly at the forefront. It’s a beautifully loud, smashy, crashy rock song with some Rage Against the Machine-style nu metal inflections that gets the blood pumping. I loved it. Giovanni Pinzón’s lead vocals also seemed to fit into that Vedder-esque manner. I therefore assumed most of the album was going to continue in that grunge vein. I was, however, wrong, and what followed after that first song is what cemented it in my mind as a masterpiece of Latin rock.
“It’s got plenty of catchy tunes, emotive singing, and when that combines with musical inventiveness, it’s a marvellous thing.”
The following song, El Vaso, starts off as an acoustic rock ballad, but soon the tone shifts back into the grunge style, before once again shifting back, but not to folk rock, but to a sound more akin to classic rock, culminating in a rambunctious guitar solo. Then we move on to Peces E Iguanas, another absolutely fantastic song which takes the album in a softer, new wave direction kind of like a Guatemalan U2, as does the song Yo Te Vi, the chiming effects-driven guitar patterns of which are reminiscent of the Edge’s guitar playing. The song Aqui Te Voy follows, which is gloriously reminiscent of early Talking Heads, but with Bohemia Suburbana’s own hard rock instincts mixed in. Eventually I came to realise that almost every song on this album is Bohemia Suburbana providing their take on different styles of rock music, and all of it works. Pinzón’s voice is also capable of fitting the mood of the song, being gentler when necessary, yet also capable of resonating powerfully. There is not a dud on the album, and there are multiple excellent songs that prove that the band is more than capable of holding their own against the best alternative rock and grunge bands of the 1990s. Even within songs that are more firmly in their alternative wheelhouse, like Duele, there will be surprise elements from other genres, like the guitar solo on that track which sounds like it was taken directly from a Southern USA blues rock song. Therefore, while grunge music and alternative rock remains the foundation of the album, Bohemia Suburbana also use the genre as a canvas with which to experiment with other styles in a way that feels complete and whole, and to me never felt like it was tacked on for no good reason, instead elevating the album to another level.
Bohemia Suburbana impressed me hugely with this record, but more than that, it’s supremely entertaining. I don’t want you to think that Mil Palabras Con Sus Dientes is simply Bohemia Suburbana taking you round the houses, showing off just how good they are at all these genres of rock. This was the album that propelled Bohemia Suburbana to fame not just locally within Guatemala, but across Latin America, and I doubt that would have been possible with a solely cerebral album. Music needs to connect on an emotional level too, and this most certainly does. It’s got plenty of catchy tunes, emotive singing, and when that combines with musical inventiveness, it’s a marvellous thing. Furthermore, what is really great about Mil Palabras Con Sus Dientes is that you can listen to the album and almost disregard that latter part of it, and simply enjoy it as rock music should be enjoyed – with that sudden rush of blood to head when guitars, bass, drums, and vocals all come together in symphonious cacophony.