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Páramos / Frank Mitchel

Páramos (2023), a recent release by singer-songwriter Frank Mitchel, has the virtuous capacity to embrace multiple meanings; a property that seems to dialogue directly with the concept of "organic rock" assumed by its author. The production is not limited to solidifying Frank's cult status as one of the most interesting young Cuban voices, or to demonstrating that many of the most successful proposals in the Cuban music scene are not just about the "organic rock" concept, but also about the "organic rock" concept. underground and Cuban alternative music of the last few years have found in the EP their ideal format.

These four songs hide other merits: they are a space of consensus between different sources of inspiration; they diversify the forms of two genres as particular as Cuban song and rock; they are a testimony of the talent of a generation of young musicians who have not stopped creating, despite the difficulties; and they portray a feeling of nonconformity, calling for action in the face of an unjust reality.

The Cuban song has never had any qualms about incorporating new sonorities. More than a phenomenon, this is almost a sign of identity in the genre; a feature that is standardized after the consolidation of what Joaquín Borges Triana calls Contemporary Cuban Song. The trova mutates and adapts itself; it shifts frontiers, but takes as a starting point a solid base, although, paradoxically, difficult to identify. Frank Mitchel has that "something", a "what do I know" that when listening to him makes us immediately label him as a troubadour. But not an incipient one, who stutters between stilted metaphors and empty messages of art for art's sake, or who wants to be too nice. Despite his youth, Frank Mitchel has his own voice, a mature message and a well-established musical DNA. For this reason, it is not possible to speak of Páramos without thinking of it, first and foremost, as the work of a singer-songwriter (with all that comes with the burden of that word).

On the other hand, the EP embodies a duality: in addition to the songwriter's song, and having several stylistic resources, it has rock, specifically the progressive rock of the 60's and 70's, and proto-heavy metal, as the other basis of its identity. Rock influences have always been present in Frank Mitchel's compositions. But if at the foot of the treeThe live album that he left us with his former band Reflejo de la piedra en el agua, was "hippie", with more relaxed and narrative songs, and the rock component diluted and similar to Argentine rock in Páramos the hippie lets his hair down, becoming aggressive and immediate, without losing any of what has made Frank's work so distinctive.

11Jthe song that opens the EP, begins with a haunting, almost dreamlike aura, interrupted briefly by the drum beats in unison with a forceful riff guitar, until breaking into a march of drums as the backbone of the rest of the song. Frank's voice is prodigious and dramatic, especially in the chorus, charged with a gravity very much in correspondence with the lyrics. And although the lyrics are not overly explicit, the title track leaves no room for doubt. It is a poetic description, but no less effective, of the events of July 11, 2021 in Cuba. 

It manages to combine despair and rebellion. The voice of Daniela Barreto, another artist of obligatory mention within the same generation of musicians to which Frank belongs, imbues the composition with a transcendent atmosphere. The fragment "Las madres no irán a comer hoy / Sus hijos están en prisión / Por salir a bailar al sol" reminds me, instinctively, of the poetry of Heberto Padilla. 11J is the first example of how the EP tends towards lyrics inspired by the natural and the metaphysical, very present in Frank's previous compositions, while still resorting to rhetorical devices and stark images. But perhaps the most striking resource of this introduction is the use, as textures, of the voices of the musicians participating in the project, along with archival audio of protesters, as well as the testimonies of mothers and relatives of some of the latter.

Guardian's eyes continues the sequence and organically converges the acoustic and Latin American influenced side with the heavier rock. It is built on a vertiginous riff reminiscent of a chase. In this sense, the interventions of Claudio Gonzalez's (Misifuz) flute, another very successful collaboration, magnify the perspective of the one who runs at the top of his lungs while intermittently looking back over his shoulder. 

The environment built by the instrumentation complements the text. Here, a character's aspirations to escape are narrated, hindered by the action of a guardian. However, the presence of a repressive entity does not prevent the advance of the -let's call him- fugitive in his pretensions of freedom. Something interesting in the cut is how Frank alludes to the fact that both characters start from the same context: "He was like you / at birth / But if he catches you / you'll be like him". A commentary on how law enforcement officers often share the same socio-economic background with those individuals they often attempt to deter on behalf of the monopoly of violence. Guardian's eyes delves into the subject it proposes 11JHe manages to escape from one of the most evident defects of Cuban art of political protest: to remain in the mere enunciation of an undeniable reality for a majority, without proposing solutions or delving into the structural causes of that reality. Not that pointing out the problems is something reprehensible or loses validity as a cathartic exercise, but in this aspect, Frank avoids the slogan and has a few verses to capture a systemic problem.

The third theme, Fairy of the Seais indebted to what was seen in Reflejo de la piedra en el agua. It is a cinematic pause that lacks a conventional, or pop, structure. Its first half is sustained by the sound of water, synthesizer arpeggios, isolated percussion hits and the discreet incorporation of flutes; culminating in Frank Mitchel's voice intoning a soulful vocal melody, without articulating words. The second verse introduces the rhythmic base that guides the rest of the ensemble. This is the most emotional moment of the EP and, although the end of the track seems abrupt to me, even from the perspective of the cut itself, and not necessarily because of arrangements or production issues, it does not detract from its expressive character.

The lyrics are the most suggestive of all. It reflects on the circularity of nature ("Aguas de otro rostro / donde fueras a beber / te devuelven siempre a la estación / girando, celeste") or the insignificance of human existence in the face of phenomena that surpass us ("¿Cómo nos podrás salvar / Si luego nos violentan / tus manos temblorosas?"). But in the plurality of meanings and interpretations lies the trick, which at the same time makes this song feel divorced from the tone set by its predecessors. Even so, it exhibits aesthetic decisions that make it, along with Guardian's eyesone of the cuts where the production work really shines.

If the EP opens furious and rocking, the closing doubles the bet with Atabeira. After the break that Fairy of the Seaafter frenzied riffs guitars, the end of the EP comes back with force. This time we are in front of a full-fledged metal sound. The element that evidences it are the breakdowns following the choruses, where the guitar invades the terrain of the doom metal and the stoner rock. The riff of this section, after the last chorus, extends in a coda of abrasive feeling, reinforced by the flute arrangements and improvisations in the percussion. The decision to record live and simultaneously with the rhythm section has a positive influence on the Atabeira

A thematic continuation with its predecessor can be inferred, as it resumes the allusions to water as a divine entity that, in this case, is personified by Atabeira, Taino goddess "Mother of the waters", who plays the role of primordial god. Although Frank Mitchel's fascination with texts that deal with the spiritual and natural is evident here, he subordinates the mythological references to the predominant political discourse in the EP. The people return to the figure of Atabey or Atabeira to ask for freedom in exchange for devotion and reconciliation with the outraged deity. To say the least, the reference to a Taino deity is unusual, but what makes this lyric remarkable is the approach of how the action of reestablishing contact with our ancestral roots becomes a form of rebellion against the designs of a establishment that has turned its back on those origins. The complicity that Frank establishes between the return to the autochthonous and the political causes is a fresh approach that, as happens in Guardian's eyesThe analysis of phenomena such as the colonialist vestiges inherent in political power.

As a "downside" to point out, there is the short duration of PáramosI also think it could have pulled more on the thread that brings together its themes and concepts. I also think it could have pulled more on the thread that groups its themes and concepts. Still, any detail is less than a scratch on a record that stands out for its completion and quality. This does not happen because of a mysterious alchemy, but because of a conscientious work of composition, recording, arrangements and production. The main people responsible for the EP coalesce into a true "supergroup". As in previous projects of other musicians, Javier Sampedro and Bosito repeat the work of production, mixing and mastering, respectively. Both have positioned themselves as key references when it comes to enhancing the sound aesthetics of a whole batch of young talents, and this release has been no exception. Likewise, Lester Domínguez's work on the drum and Joel A. del Río on bass (both with a lot of experience in the Havana circuit) are joined by the experience of Claudio González and Daniela Barreto.

Therein lies the other virtue of PáramosThe conjunction of artists from a single momentum of Cuban music so unusual and isolated from previous and subsequent trends, composed by exponents such as Tobías Alfonso, Misifuz, Ruido Blnco, Luces Verdes or Isla Escarlata. That some of these musicians continue to ally themselves in collaborative projects such as Páramoswhich refreshes the face of the singer-songwriter and envisions new paths for Cuban rock, is just a small sample of all the potential of this generation of castaways. 

Frank Mitchel has found fertile ground in new territories, while at the same time evolving his own essence. Perhaps because of its format and immediacy, Páramos may not be a paradigmatic work, but neither does it need to be. It is enough to signify another step towards the excellence of someone who is many things at the same time: a poet with the airs and graces of a poet. rock stara hippie who rebels amidst images of the sea, celestial bodies and heavy riffs of guitars; a genuine voice among the noise of uncertain times.

Carlos Quiroga Carlos D. Quiroga Morejon “Guitarrero” and serial doodler. Raccoon worshiper. I dream of writing my own Murder Ballads. More posts

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  1. Daiyan Noa says:

    Thank you very much for discovering Frank Mitchel and his magnificent Ep Páramos.

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