Review by Ian Morales.
Austin’s own Latin-indie rockers Maneja Beto have been a long time staple not only in Austin but specifically in the Red River district’s live music scene. Often described as a mix of indie bands like Joy Division and Latin Alternative icons Café Tacvba, Maneja Beto have crossed audiences and genres better than any other band in Austin’s recent history. After multiple releases, all of which typically receive critical acclaim locally, Maneja Beto is back with their latest full length album entitled escante calling.
escante calling is indeed the most “indie” album the group has recorded to date shaving some the excess cumbia and traditional Mexican influences longtime fans have loved so much in years past. The key word is “some.” It was those cumbias mixed with indie rock that made Maneja Beto’s albums some of the most danceable and enjoyable by non-Latinos and Latinos alike. While escante calling still has the tracks to make you want to dance regardless if you know how or not, it is the indie influences that stand out more than before. Listeners might not recognize it right away as escante calling, like every Maneja album, is sung in Spanish.
The album’s opening track “El Abrigo” is an organ heavy indie gem that shows off the chops of lead singer/guitarist Alex Chavez. While an enjoyable listen, escante calling really begins to prove itself worthy of your ear time on “Panteón.” With heavy bass line, spacey keyboard effects, and beautiful vocal harmonies, “Panteon” is Maneja Beto at their indie best.
Dance music lovers will bask in the indie-disco greatness that is “Ofrendas.” The lead single the group pushed prior to Escante Calling’s release, “Ofrendas” is full of bouncy synth effects and Chavez’s crooning vocals all supported with a ’70s funk-influenced guitar rhythm. Other standout dance tracks with disco flavor include “El Orgullo Nos Matará ” and “Contémplame.”
For longtime Maneja Beto fans who loved the cumbia-indie tracks the group is so well known for, “Solo Quisiera” and “Ubicate” sound like everything else you have ever heard from Maneja Beto for the most part. That is a good thing as it allows escante calling the opportunity to introduce new Maneja Beto listeners to what they do best.
The only oddball tracks on escante calling are “Women In Towers (Mecánica)” and “Vermillion Border Wars.” “Women In Towers” is great when performed live (speaking from personal experience) but is just out of place somehow on escante calling. “Vermillion Border Wars” may have the best song title on the album, but the spacey jazz track just does not do anything for Maneja Beto. It may be too abstract for the average listener or even the most musically sophisticated Maneja Beto fan. It will most likely be what many fans and critics refer to as a “filler” track that will make you hit the “next” button.
Whether you are familiar with Maneja Beto or not, understand Spanish or not, escante calling is a must listen for Latin Alternative and indie rock fans alike. With the band performing less these days due to members now living in different cities, it is difficult to say when they will put out another EP or full length album. escante calling shows off the band’s musicianship and songwriting skills in a way that is approachable to all without sacrificing their cultural roots. Maybe that was their intention to create such a album. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, you are missing out if you do not own escante calling.
Rating: 8 of 10.