After Revolutionizing Chilean Pop, Gepe Goes Back to the Basics on ‘Ciencia Exacta’

Photo by Pedro Quintana. Courtesy of Quemasucabeza

Chilean indie titan Daniel Riveros — better known as Gepe — has taken a glittering baseball bat made of sparkly electronics and smashed down every wall that stands between traditional South American folk music and contemporary pop. He’s tinkered with reggaeton, re-energized huayno, and reconstructed cumbia. His style functions like a magical lava lamp, perpetually leaving fans in a state of marvel over his amorphous, incandescent creations.

So what’s the next step for a splashy music maverick who can do it all? On Ciencia Exacta, his sixth album out today, Gepe’s made a decision to shed his luminous skins and move back to the basics.

The master of reinvention has flaked off layer after layer to deliver a 10-song album that is minimal and largely acoustic. The songs are so scaled back, they would be forgettable if they weren’t so catchy, and they bring out Gepe’s unvarnished ear for melody and simplicity — a side he showed audiences briefly on his solo debut Gepinto in 2005.

Photo by Pedro Quintana. Courtesy of Quemasucabeza
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Ciencia Exacta happened almost by accident. After the success of his last album Estilo Libre, Gepe had been working on a completely different set of soaring, bombastic tracks that fell neatly in his electro-tinged canon. However, docile acoustic harmonies began appearing to him, one after the other, in reticent groups. “Usually, when one song shows up for me, two or three more come after — prima y hermana,” he said. Gepe originally thought he could put the songs together on a short EP. But the acoustic melodies kept pouring out of him, and before he knew it, he had enough to fill an entire, completely unplanned album.

“To cope, some people need to turn into themselves and find refuge.”

The music unlocked a more contemplative singer-songwriter in Gepe, and invited him to slow down. He needed a pause; after all, the artist has been at it for more than 10 years now, first as a member of the underground Santiago duo Taller Dejao and then as a solo artist signed to Quemasucabeza since 2005. Following 2010’s Audiovisión, his fame has been mounting in heavy increments. Estilo Libre had paved the way for sold-out concerts and tours throughout the world, and as euphoric as the process had been, it had also inspired feelings of solitude and a need for self-reflection.

“There’s this moment where you start to do a self-evaluation, and you look back at the path you’ve been on and where you’re going,” he said. “To me, this entire album was part of that process.”

Gepe sketched out the quiet songs with just his guitar and his voice, building them out later alongside his producer and longtime collaborator Cristián Heyne. The internal exercise yielded an album with pronounced sensitivity, attune to stirring emotion. “Hablar de Ti” and the even warmer “Abrir La Puerta” are buoyant openers, filled with effusive proclamations of not just love and romance, but tenderness and connection. And while it would be easy to assume these sentimental expressions are personal narratives, Gepe says they touch on something much deeper.

Gepe wrote the album as he watched the world reach new levels of confusion and anxiety. He worried about the amount of hate, violence, and aggression he saw on the news, and tried to find ways to settle amid chaos. “To cope, some people need to turn into themselves and find refuge — it’s a bit of turning away so you don’t lose yourself,” he said.

A lighter approach to songwriting became a way to combat the heaviness that surrounded him, while at the same time allowing emotion into his work. “Maybe the album is more sensitive and more relaxed, with less anxiety. And anxiety is something I just needed to bring down,” he said.

Ciencia Exacta ends up being a sunny contribution in a tumultuous time. And while it’s more subdued than some of Gepe’s upbeat releases, it stays true to his artistic vision, in particular his established practice of imbuing his music with tradition. Compared to maneuvers like his head-turning huayno reimagining “Hambre,” the homages on Ciencia Exacta are understated — but they exist nonetheless. Folklore urbano burns brightly on 60s-inspired songs like “Solo” and “Flor del Canelo.” Cameos from Chilean folklore legend María Esther Zamora and Los Jaivas drummer Juanita Parra on each of these songs, respectively, bring an indelible sense of history to the album.

“It’s a bit of turning away so you don’t lose yourself.”

“This is probably the most Chilean album I’ve done since Gepinto,” Gepe said.

Even the album’s lone cover — an acoustic take on Café Tacvba’s frenetic “Las Flores” — feels stunning, bohemian, and folksy.

Gepe has said his albums exist independent of each other, capturing different moments in his creative trajectory. “I’ve always followed a super organic path,” he said. “I’ve never done anything I didn’t feel, and I think I’ll always be following the moment.” What Ciencia Exacta adds to his body of work can be best understood by the album’s ironic title; this record is exactly the opposite of precise, scientific, or methodical. Gepe handed the creative reigns to conscious and gut, opening himself up to a freeform emotional exercise. We might be surprised to see a more mellow side of Gepe, but at the same time, this is an artist who has never been afraid to explore and see where experimentation takes him.

Gepe’s Ciencia Exacta is out now on Quemasucabeza. Stream an exclusive playlist of his inspirations for the album below.