Humor is subjective. What the person next to you finds gut-busting may not even elicit a polite smirk from you. This is a widely agreed-upon facet of comedy and is also part of why there are so many different flavors to be appreciated. The degree to which one finds something amusing depends on the relationship between the producer and the audience and what abstract amount of emotional investment there is around the context of the joke. You either get it, or you don’t. Or you shriek, “Too soon!”
Today (April 18), Los Rivera Destino release their debut LP, Besitos y Besitas, which is bound to blow open the conversation around what kind of humor their brand meddles in while surprising listeners with just how much pathos can be mined from their satire. “We got a lot of fans and exposure from our covers, but we didn’t want to be typecast as the ‘covers guys,’” guitarist and vocalist Fernando Tarrazo tells Remezcla. “We knew we had the talent to write original songs, and we stepped away from doing covers pretty quickly. “Thankfully, we avoided having an identity crisis as a band,” adds lead vocalist Carlos Figueroa. “Once we began to put out other music, people began to see us on those terms. And with this album, we always knew it was going to be 100 percent original music and lyrics.”
Los Rivera Destino began when Figueroa, Terrazzo, and Antonio Sánchez (sub-vocalist) huddled together during their first year of college at the University of Puerto Rico and thought about forming a band together. As friends, their thoughts began to coalesce around one concept: observational comedy via songs. While it’d make them more of a niche group, they banked it would also make their proposal more unique and stand out amongst the average grouping. Even in a pre-Hurricane María and before the 2019 protests era, Puerto Rico still had a bevy of social and political topics to pick apart, rife for satire and a little bit of therapy.
Their instinct proved mostly right, as the newly-christened Los Rivera Destino started to amass a small-if-not-loyal following of fans who liked their clever brand of bolero comedias uploaded to their YouTube channel. On a lark, they covered the then-smash hit “Te Boté,” switching it from trap to bolero. The response was immediate and hugely positive, and it eventually led to an actual honest-to-goodness collaboration with Bad Bunny himself. That track became “Flor,” a love letter to fathers that also began to lift the lid on how deep and emotional the trio could get.
A bit over two years later, they’re finally putting out Besitos y Besitas. The album kicks off in familiar territory with “Foto de Perfil,” a melancholic bolero opener that includes the inspired participation of iLe and Ñengo Flow. It’s a duet that looks peculiar on paper, but the final product hits the mark with both artists nailing the old-school vibes, all while staying true to their own styles. When questioned about the unexpected pairing, the group shares it was actually iLe’s idea to attach Ñengo to the song. “We were at a loss as to who else to reach out to, and she suggested him.”
Another bolero is the humorous “Mis Amigos,” an ode to cannabis and the friends who indulge. The trio is remarkably adept at capturing the authentic sound and style of the genre, making them feel like they were plucked directly from decades ago. When questioned about what practice or study goes into making their songs as bona fide as possible, Sánchez says: “We listen to all types of boleros, and include all the unique instrumentations like whistles or vibraphones from those old songs.” Tarrazo adds, “We give a lot of attention to the juxtaposition of tones in our songs. If the melody is serious, then the more ridiculous the lyrics. Like a song that sounds romantic but is about smoking weed!”
Remarkably, “I’ll make you fuckin’ pancakes” is the opening line of “Pancakes,” one of the sweetest, earnest, and romantic songs you’ll probably hear all year about doting on your partner and bringing them breakfast in bed. None of the sentiment is dulled by the absurd scenarios sung about or liberal cussing. But that’s how Los Rivera Destino work in this album — setting you up to expect a rash of jokes and scat humor and then flooring you from the left with feels. One of the most impactful examples of this is “Wichi.” It’s a poppy track that takes the horrifying scenario of a friend being gunned down but is sung in silly bubblegum rock-style and then slyly changes into a conversation that grapples with death and the vacuum left behind when a person is gone. As Tarrazo explains, “It’s an emotional song, but I still find it humorous.
Sometimes it’s the song’s existence itself that’s the joke.” It’s a sentiment that harkens on an old Mel Brooks quote: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” Talking about finding the balance between the seriousness of the subject matter and the comedy, Figueroa says, “We don’t really measure how much humor or emotion to put in or take out of a song, just like how you don’t in real life when you talk with other people. It just comes naturally — you can’t overthink it.”
“We don’t really measure how much humor or emotion to put in or take out of a song, just like how you don’t in real life when you talk with other people. It just comes naturally — you can’t overthink it.”
The project does not lack guest artists either, all eager to play in the same sandbox as the fellas. Aside from the previously mentioned iLe and Ñengo, Puerto Rico’s own Guaynaa and Pedro Capó drop by, as do Riccie Oriach from the neighboring Dominican Republic and Spain’s own Paula Cendejas. The latter forms part of a vals/tango track, “Le Gustaban Los Tríos,” which was an exciting challenge for them as they actively tried to incorporate different genres of music into the release. “We’ve been wanting to do a tango song for a long time now, and one day we teased our cuatro player [Hiram Molina] to do something for the album because, at that point, he hadn’t participated in any of the jam sessions,” recalls Figueroa. “So he sat down and came up with this song just to shut us up and blew us away.” Sánchez adds, “Paula [Cendejas] reached out to us wanting initially to do a bolero together, and we told her we didn’t have any, but we had a vals if she was interested. And she was, and sure enough, she killed it.”
Los Rivera Destino don’t see Besitos y Besitas as a recalibration away from what they’ve been most known for. Instead, they see it as fine-tuning and a demonstration of what has always been there and who they’ve always been as a band. Besitos y Besitas finally allowed them to do comic storytelling on the scale they’ve wanted. “We’ve matured a lot, as musicians and friends, since we started this experiment. But something that’s stayed constant is that we like to laugh and make others laugh,” says Tarrazo. “It’s very hard for us to make art without [humor].”
“Unless, nos vayamos en la mala and get depressed and go into religion, and then we’ll come out with a serious gospel album like Héctor El Father,” jokes Sánchez. “The album’s gonna be called La Mala!” Tragedy plus time equals comedy, they say. Besitos y Besitas proves comedy plus time equals emotion. And plenty of quality fun, too.
Listen to Besitos y Besitas below.