The story of Las Kellies‘ new album Friends and Lovers begins with another album. After releasing their last full-length – the dubby, danceable Total Exposure – to great critical acclaim, the Argentine post-punk trio went back to the studio and, according to them, went a little nuts. They recorded a crazy, everything-but-the-studio-sink album influenced by reggae, hip-hop, and beyond. Guitarist and frontwoman Ceci Kelly tantalizingly describes it in a Skype interview from Buenos Aires as being “like unleashing the horses.” She says the band liked the album, christening it with a name they won’t reveal, but decided it wasn’t the right time to unleash those particular horses. They went back to work.

Known for their raw energy and bass-driven, ESG-inspired hooks, Las Kellies always achieved their signature sound in the past by simply playing together and working it out as they went. This time, for the first time in their 10-years-and-counting career, they approached songwriting with a plan – a concept almost. They would record a simple, straightforward album, without overthinking things. They would write songs from the heart. Above all, they would avoid keyboards. They wrote and recorded quickly, but the resulting grip of songs is one they couldn’t be happier to share with the world at this moment. “Every time we make a record, I think it’s the best record we’ve made,” confesses drummer Sil Kelly, “but I like this one because it has a lot of the first years of Las Kellies in it. It’s more like our beginnings.”

las-kellies-4_music

In some ways, she’s absolutely right. Friends and Lovers is more recognizably rock-influenced than anything the group has done in years, and the garage riffs that propel the album will take longtime fans back. It also might be their best stuff yet. Opening track “Sugar Beat” is one of their all-time most solid songs. It combines the jittery punk-funk of Big Boys with the sweeter, poppier side of 80s new wave – think Bananarama or Bow Wow Wow. Delay on the vocals and guitars and slightly murky bass split the difference between psych rock and their recent dub-influenced past. It’s a sound both fresh and mature, one they explore successfully and thoroughly on this new release. As the album progresses, however, plain psych garage gradually takes over, as it will, reaching a peak on the ethereal blues rock of “Breath of Light.”

Maturity is a hallmark other ways as well. In contrast to their early days of performing in wacky costumes and singing in Spanish, English, Japanese, and any other language they felt like, this album, with lyrics in English, is rooted in sincere emotion. “More than music, we were influenced by the situations and relationships that we were going through, what we saw in society and in the streets,” says Ceci. This has been an intense year, full of change for the band, she says. It left them wanting to sing about their own lives and experiences.

“Make It Real,” for example, a psych-garage confection with the texture of cotton candy, is inspired by a close male friend of the band who has trouble committing to relationships. “We love him a lot, but he’s the kind of guy who is always trying to relate to people through desire,” she says, “so I don’t think he ever gets to love a girl, like, really do it. Hopefully, one day he can be in love, you know?”

las-kellies_music

Poptimism be damned, lyrical authenticity and rock tendencies fit together beautifully on this album. Counterintuitively, for all its heartfelt immediacy, it’s also their most taut and sophisticated material, not to mention their prettiest. “Summer Breeze” centers on a modish guitar drone and a rolling drum beat, but it’s defined by chiming, uncharacteristically dreamy vocals from both Sil and Ceci. Raunchy riffs and soft vocals are well-worn territory at this point, but it’s thoroughly appropriate to the subject matter here, and refreshing as a previously unheard side of Las Kellies. The members will readily admit that the washy vocals and guitar fuzz, reminiscent of Las Robertas, is partly inspired by friends at home and in Chile who are in the psych scene, but the band have adopted these mannerisms for the best possible reason. It was the right tool for what they needed to express.

Maybe Las Kellies had to record a (reportedly) mind-bending, labyrinthine dub/funk/rap album first in order to be able to write songs this honest and direct. And maybe we’ll get to hear this mysterious other recording sometime soon. Ceci suggests it will be a “nice surprise for the future.” For now, the album they’ve chosen to give us is more than enough.