In ‘Mazunte 2016,’ Los Blenders break through Beach Boys

Courtesy of Paloma Sánchez via Shannon Zignoli.

Los Blenders love surf rock. And they have been heralded as “the Next Great Mexican Garage Band.” But they are not Beach Boys buffs, nor are they the arbiters of riotous youth shows. At least, they are not only these things. Their first EP, “Oye,” came out in 2011. In 2015, they released their EP “Chavos Bien” (“Good Guys”) to an audience of mostly hipsters and inhabitants of the underground music space. Then, as “Chavos” gained momentum, they started playing incessantly, drunkenly, to crowds of slam-dancing, crowd-surfing teenagers: people who actually “go to shows to have a great time,” says guitarist and vocalist Alejandro Archundia. He is joined by bassist and vocalist Osmar Espinosa, drummer José Manuel Martinez and guitarist Patricio González. 

As they played larger shows, in their native Mexico City and otherwise—for the Mexican broadcast network Canal 11, even Coachella—music for them became an enterprise more involved than a roiling crowd, though good loud shows have remained central to their ethos. In 2018, they released their first full-length album “Ha Sido,” which exploded the garage rock genre to assume the ornamental finish of power ballads and sunniness of certain classic rock. Archundia cites midcentury Mexican rock ’n’ roll bands like Los Apson and Los Rebeldes del Ritmo as influences for “Oye” especially. As for “Super Amor,” a track from their newest album “Mazunte 2016,” the band wanted to “make it weirder.” That is, in this song, a surf rock-doo wop tune melts into a reverberative shoegazer epilogue—with the core melody maintained throughout. This is what “Mazunte 2016” is about: hyperawareness of established genre and style, building your expectations up and dissolving them before you even notice. It’s captivating. 

Los Blenders will always love surf rock, but in “Mazunte” they break out of genre boundaries to play incessantly with its tropes. The album becomes an affectionate, admiring kind of satire. The track “Mazunte 2016” is brief and beachy, purposely so, a sweet vignette of the titular coastal town with the tremolo picking and all the other trappings of The Ventures and Dick Dale. Archundia says that they packed in the most “surfy references” and tempo changes they could. Other songs are just as rife with music history. He got the idea for the sharp, heist-y guitar in “Perdidos en Pantitlán,” for example, from the trumpet in Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet.” 

“Ponte Punk” is another sunny song with its roots in the late 50s. With its several synchronous vocal sequences, it is a testament to the band’s dexterity in synthesizing and layering melodies. The music video chronicles a former-love story between rival gangs of cowboy types and punks with face paint. One of the top comments: “Valentín elizade vs my chemical romance.”

“Mazunte” has a double face, however. “No Se Surfear,” the first track, alerts you immediately that the record represents a new phase for the band. It opens with plodding guitar and tambourine and Archundia’s lovely, guttural hum. Gradually it swells with percussion and builds patterns of rhythmic tension and release, though never compromising its pace. It is more patient, contemplative, than the quick cymbal-heavy bops in “Oye.” “I think we just got older,” Archundia says of the style shift. “This song in particular has more of a blend between Pink Floyd and Beach Boys, especially in the final part…we went for the vocal layers like in ‘Surf’s Up’ but with a twist.” 

Though garage rock is foundational for Los Blenders—Archundia can recall the fresh drive to pick up a guitar and sing after hearing The Strokes for the first time—its bare bones can only be manipulated so much. “[Garage] can be very unidimensional because of the role guitars and vocals play in the songs,” he points out. “In this album we tried to use vocals more like a synth and some guitars as a percussive instrument, so I think this kind of changes the vibe of the song.” With its gritty, stuttering guitars, “Eres un Malviaje” (“You’re a Bad Trip”) is a moody, somewhat esoteric post-punk anthem. Much of the latter half of the album is inspired by post-punk and darkwave and owes much to Spanish new wave bands like Hombres G and Mecano.

Since they are known for the energy of their shows, it might produce some worry to hear these experiments. While “Eres un Malviaje” still has the driving percussive and melodic chains with which the band is so comfortable, the winding “Me Derrites” could be harder to translate to the stage. To this the singer answers, “We like to modulate our shows,” with slower songs following the high-energy stuff to let crowds rest. At festivals Los Blenders try harder to nurture the “feel-good vibes,” while in smaller venues they also incorporate “some dense and weird parts.” This latter structure is emblematic of the new record: the feel good vibes and the head-nodding rock, which have at this point been perfected, approach a more mysterious, psychedelic, reverb-heavy, 80s-inflected underbelly.

“Mazunte” should win the band pride of place in the post-history of garage and surf. They are respectful of, but more broad-minded than, the uniform ideas of these genres. What’s impressive is that reviving and honoring tradition remains a primary goal. To them tradition is palimpsestic; they can revise it, scribble on it and combine it with others. This sense of the building up of history resounds through the album, which strikes you as both familiar and novel, like a daydream. Or, Archundia says, “The idea of the album is to sound like a memory.”

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