Since the inception of the project in his hometown of Monclova, Coahuila (now residing in Monterrey), Luis Ángel Martínez has cultivated his talent within the kind of slacker sensibilities that first became prominent in the mid-80s: bored young men and women with limited equipment and an incessant desire to put their life experience into song. Like his spiritual forefathers, Martínez didn’t care for refinement or sophistication. It didn’t matter if the sounds of their recordings would slant to the harsh and untreated, and often they would be happier writing about funny occurrences and dumb jokes than deep themes, even if most of the time those songs sounded amazing.
To certain people, Piyama Party were premier bedroom indie pop darlings for years. The project reflected what it was like to be bored, middle class, and an undergrad in Mexico. Nodding to both lo-fi stalwarts like Sebadoh and Spanish bands with deadpan vocals, Luis Ángel talked about female sports commentators, Michael Jackson, and death metal with dark humor and great skill. Most of Piyama Party’s releases feature a ton of songs and regularly put out compilations of B-sides that could easily fit on their main albums. Perhaps many Piyama Party fans might find themselves puzzled by how grand and accomplished Álbum De Oro turned out to be.
2013’s En Español Por Favor saw Piyama adopting a more polished union, incorporating all their elements without sacrificing the looseness of the songs. Álbum De Oro, on the other hand, sees them become something bigger than they had ever shown they could sound. A prime example is opening track “Paz Mundial,” a shoegaze waltz that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by Martínez’s other band, Los Mundos. Luis Ángel and his bandmates named the project Álbum De Oro because they feel this is their best record yet, and it probably is. Here, Piyama Party sounds reassured, confident in their compositions, and willing to experiment with sounds they have not dared to try before. Technically and aesthetically, it’s excellent.
On almost every front, the band has demonstrated growth without sacrificing excitement. Most tellingly, there’s a love for 60s rock that runs through the whole record, ranging from the golden age of psych on “Acuérdate Del Rock” that’s almost too on the nose, to the surfy “Tiburón 160,” which takes elements of pre-hippie California worship without overdoing them. “Magia de Mujer Negra” (yes, “Black Magic Woman,” although if it’s a cover, it’s unrecognizable from the Fleetwood Mac/Santana versions) starts off wobbly and weird but then evolves into a sitar and wah wah track not unlike those found in typical 60s records, while closer “Vértigo Espiritual” delivers gentle drones, sound collages, and arpeggiated guitars for a meditative moment of bliss.
There’s more to Álbum De Oro than psych worship. At the heart of every composition, you can grasp at the lo-fi roots of the songs, the essence remaining what Piyama Party has always been about. The record is also a sampling of some of Martínez’s favorite styles of rock music, wrapped in experimentation with instruments, arrangements, and sounds. In between the massive walls of distortion practiced by Los Mundos and the angular, spiky tunes by his newest side project Tomás Violencia, Piyama Party remains Luis Ángel’s lab and playground.
Lead single “Vampiros y Plantas Tropicales” is loopy and repetitive, giving it a sense of good times seldom heard in his music prior to this record. “Fiesta Illuminati” features new wavey synths and a walking bassline that makes it an evocative piece of music of a half-remembered age. The nausea-inducing downtuned riff, screechy guitars, and stabbing snare drums of “Dinámicas De Terrorismo,” on the other hand, give off an unshakeable sense of dread. “Esqueleto De Alien” begins with gothic guitars but resolves into an alternative ballad worthy of Cerati. Nothing is what it seems here and we’re all the better for it.
Mexican rock tends to be defined by the early stages of bands and movements. We treasure the early days of sparsely attended gigs and null press attention; innovations and evolutions are hardly celebrated as fans are more concerned with attending shows to hear the old tracks. I’m pretty sure there are many Piyama Party fans who will only recognize 2009’s Más Mejor as their crowning achievement, the one that defined their era. It’s their loss if they choose to shun Álbum De Oro for it. With this record, Piyama Party demonstrate that bands can continue to impress many records in; more bands should take risks and aim to be better instead of catering to their crowds. Perhaps Piyama Party’s biggest lesson here is not to care about having a traditional career with album sales and festival appearances in sight, but rather focusing on their craft. Personalities evolve along with methods of expression. Sometimes what makes the joke funny is how you tell it.