In Paul Delvaux’s 1943 surrealist work The Musee Spitzner, a woman faces a wall, barefoot and topless, with eyes closed. Despite the close proximity of both a nude male and a skeleton, she appears serene; a Venus-like figure with arms still intact. Behind them, a seated woman, and draped red curtains displaying another skeleton, this one with muscles and ligaments visible.
On the cover of the sophomore album from Madrid-based punk act Biznaga, that scene becomes an even stranger one. Artist Samuel Guzmán of La Ortopedia del Manco tweaked the elements just slightly, yet to an unsettling, sinister effect. Delvaux was inspired by a medical oddities museum at the Brussels Fair in the 1930s; Guzmán’s interpretation, however, is injected with the disenchantment with reality that fuels the mockingly titled Sentido del Espectáculo, which we’re premiering today at Remezcla.
The Venus is blindfolded, holding a butcher’s knife. The muscular skeleton is instead a shadowy shape of a person lurking behind the seated woman, who is now dressed in black, not a pearlized white. The moon hangs just above the stately Edificio Metrópolis in the background. The setting is established; the arena for this exhibition is Madrid. Replacing the original spectators, none of whom turned directly at the viewer, are the members of Biznaga, and bassist Jorge stares dead-on.
For Biznaga, those kinds of details are as key in conveying a concept as the lyrics themselves. The words, in case singer Alvaro’s clear enunciation wasn’t enough, are included with the album in their original Spanish. With the wider distribution intended by Slovenly Records, there’s an English translation included, too.
“Lyrics have always been fundamental for our band,” Jorge explains over email. “Lyrics are another tool, one that’s equally important as a good guitar riff. In my point of view…all bands should pay attention to this. It’s [uninspired] to hear songs about the same thing and in the same way as always, using the same hackneyed language ad nauseum.”
“Mediocridad y Confort,” then, is the perfect opener, a punchy illumination of the overall themes detailed in the subsequent tracks. The gist comes in jabs, repeated blows to societal complacency: the commercialization of art, the emotional pandering of marketing, the devices of total control held in higher regard than real human connections — “la broma infinita” that is life. Biznaga delivers dystopian complexity in a single sharp but melodious tune.
“It’s not about singing about deep or transcendental topics in a pedantic way, necessarily. It’s about writing good lyrics. This means that if you’re smart, you can write amazing songs about the most absurd things, or even address major historical issues in the most simple and effective way,” he adds.
While Madrid is the context from which Biznaga is organically shaped, it could be “Una Ciuidad Cualquiera,” which is the second track. How universally applicable the themes of Sentido del Espectáculo are is emphasized in that deceptively bright sounding number: corner drug deals, desolate drunks, daytime executives who are nighttime predators, perpetually skirting the law — a city that’s as good a place to die as any other.
The touch of flamenco in Biznaga’s sound was heavier handed on their 2014 debut Centro Dramático Nacional, but it’s not altogether absent on this outing. It’s particularly present in the choral breakdowns of “Nigredo” and “Jóvenes Ocultos,” and glaringly clear throughout the bulk of “Oficio de Tinieblas.” While pairing the Andalusian tradition with any variety of rock is not a pioneering move, in this realm of cynicism, disgust, and overwhelming futility, the coupling makes for a perfect destabilization. The Espectáculo is our present, plainly laid out — and Biznaga is the dirty lens that actually makes its unnerving realities much clearer.
Sentido del Espectáculo is out January 20 on Slovenly Recordings. Biznaga is slated to play the imprint’s We’re Loud Fest in Puerto Rico on March 3 before trekking to Austin for SXSW, as well as Mexico.