In case you weren't aware, Los Amigos Invisibles are from Venezuela. It's a fact the band has mentioned in every one of its previous album titles. The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera, Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Space, and Superpop Venezuela — you get the idea. Not this time, though. With surprising candor, Los Amigos Invisibles' latest release is called Commercial.
Guitarist and primary songwriter José Luis Pardo explains the shift in titles rose from an awareness that "all the albums we have done have been kind of left-field for the market." This time he focused on creating something more approachable. "The word 'commercial' was bad for a long time, but we wanted to play with it, say up front what we want to do with this record."
Commercial is the band's most immediately listener-friendly release. The songs are distinct, rather than bleeding together as on earlier albums (and in the band's performances, which Pardo likens to DJ sets, with their seamless transitions). Latin rhythms mix with disco beats and funk guitars to inspire pure, hedonistic pleasure, a mood accentuated by the lighthearted lyrics. Commercial is unironically retro, creating a '70s cruise-ship vibe on "Vivire Para Ti" and the English-language "In Luv with U."
The idea of actually being a traveling Love Boat band appeals to Pardo, who'll play anywhere, anytime. "I'd love to go on a Caribbean tour," he says. "The farthest we've ever gone was Australia, and Turkey. You'd be amazed how much the heritage of Turkey has in common with Latin America."
Commercial is augmented by several guest appearances, an idea that has been building for a while, according to Pardo. "Whenever we'd meet a musician we like, we'd say, 'We should do something,'" he says. This being 2009, the partnerships were handled via e-mail and file exchanges to FTP servers. The most notable cameo, a perky duet vocal on "Vivire," comes from Natalia Lafourcade, a cherubic art-popper who is rapidly becoming Mexico's answer to Björk. "She did what she did, sent it over, and we were totally freaking out, like, this is brilliant," says Pardo, who claims Lafourcade's new album Hu Hu Hu "will be a classic. It's gonna be the most important record in Hispanic music for a long time."
Though they didn't take the stage together, Lafourcade and Los Amigos recently performed in New York at the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference. Pardo isn't entirely comfortable with the name of the gathering, remarking, "When you say 'alternative,' it means something that's not for everybody." He admits to leading a band of outsiders, however: "When people think of Latin music, they think of Enrique Iglesias or Shakira or somebody like that ... mainstream music you hear on Telemundo." Los Amigos Invisibles definitely aren't mainstream, but they've been hipster favorites for a while, releasing several albums on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label before jumping to Nacional for the latest record.
It's unclear how important being known as a Latin act, alternative or otherwise, really is to music fans. Though the '90s generation of progressive Latin bands — Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Café Tacuba, Aterciopelados — prized regional identity, younger acts like the Pinker Tones have appeared ethnically ambiguous. Pardo sees the overall tide turning next to Latin self-identification. "Everyone goes through the phase of denying your culture and then embracing it through your music," he says. Los Amigos have always split the difference, emphasizing their nationality while making music that can be enjoyed by listeners internationally. Pardo says namechecking their country "seemed like a lucky charm for us," but there was a downside, too: "In record stores, they put us right into the world music section."
So now that they've gone Commercial, will the Venezuelan side of Los Amigos fade into the background? Pardo is blasé about the prospect. "People who know Los Amigos know we're from Venezuela," he says. "There's no need to say it anymore."