Argentinian electronic musician Federico Aubele made a wise choice when he first approached Rob Garza and Eric Hilton with a demo. The twin heads of Eighteenth Street Lounge Music, also collectively known as Thievery Corporation, saw something of themselves in his work. It's a fusion of music without boundaries, beat-driven without once falling into cliche, carried by gentle, reverberant vocals. So what if the words are in Spanish. That's all the more appropriate given Aubele's origins, both musical and personal. The lyrics touch on feelings, memories, relationships, and culture.
Several musical themes emerge throughout the recording. Aubele's guitar is omnipresent, usually fueling grooves with repeated vamps but also rippling and providing off-center accents. The vocals, with few exceptions, feel honey-sweet and warm. This is music for romance, no doubt about it. Flamenco, tango, reggae, dub, and other less easily-recognizable styles intermingle, whether through reverberant echoing afterbeats, Latin-inflected hip-hop, gentle bandoneon-infused folk, Flamencoed electro, or thickly textured synth/percussion grooves.
Aubele mixes up the vocalists on this recordSumaia, Gabriela Maiaru, La Susiin order to provide variety and reinforce a sense that the disc is winding along a musical journey. Sumaia, who opens and closes the record, has a breathy delivery and floats effortlessly up into the higher register. The sing-song melody of "Ante Tus Ojos" ("Before Your Eyes") is an appropriate counterpart for reggae-tinged keyboard and guitar accents, a bright welcome to Gran Hotel. She transports into jazz diva territory on "Besos De Sal," gliding smoothly along the countours of the song. Gabriela Maiaru sounds like she's half there on "Postales," wisping along in a dream state on "Esta Noche" and tranforming a sense of melancholy to discovery on "Contigo."
Aubele himself sings on "Salvacion." He's not a virtuoso in any sense of the word, but there's something about his fragility and understatement that serves the song. It seems like he's explicitly reminding you of his folk roots (stereo guitars peacefully stepping along), emphasizing the organic feel that informs his music, and emerging as a humble, grounded artist.
Gran Hotel goes down easy and never demands close listening. That doesn't subtract from its impact, subtle and sweet as it may be. Friendly music with soul most definitely has a welcome place in the gritty world of contemporary electronica.