Protistas Challenge the Status Quo of the Chilean Music Scene on ‘Nefertiti’

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There’s no doubt that Chile and especially the Quemasucabeza label are going through one hell of a golden stretch. There’s so many acts doing interesting music and releasing great albums that we’re probably looking at the new Latin American capital of music, the epicenter of the new millennium, or at least a fertile ground of artists doing their best work which will result in years of influence for others in many countries.

While it remains to be seen the effect it will have in the long run, right now is the time for Protistas to make a huge statement, and the Santiago band has responded accordingly. Nefertiti is their boldest and most well-realized effort to date, as well as a challenge for their labelmates and compatriots to up the ante.

Their third LP, Nefertiti is Protistas’ first album for the venerable Quemasucabeza label; while the “indie” leanings presented on its 12 songs might have made sense at a certain point in the label history, now it seems a little out of step. Label stalwarts Gepe and Pedropiedra have carved poppier but stellar paths, and others in the label seem to follow the lead into ultra catchy choruses and ’80s production values. Protistas, on the other hand, stubbornly cling to their guitars and emotional lyrics instead of succumbing to the tide (even Ases Falsos, Quemasucabeza’s other great guitar band, relish in their AOR ready sound). You wouldn’t blame them if the thought had crossed their mind, since it has helped most of their labelmates turn in amazing work that defies generalization and has helped make them household names.

Protistas work with a sound that’s both timeless and nostalgic, or at least it feels like it. Where their previous albums (Nortinas War, 2010; Las Cruces, 2012) had a noisy edge to their approach, now they have smooth out the corners for a picture perfect sound. Yet, it’s all been a natural evolution; this record doesn’t feel like a departure so much as refinement. Nefertiti shows that where once there was angst and despair pushing through their guitar amps, now there’s beauty and fragility. Even on a song like “Florecimiento” which pushes the overdrive pedal like in their old days, is more about giving the sound a different depth and space than to dramatize. There’s plenty of feelings on this album but hardly any desperation.

The band has become a jangly pop rock band brimming with emotion. There’s little else to compare them to nowadays; all I could think was Mexico’s Camiches without the solemnity. Their lyrics wander between an unknown future and yearn for an imperfect past. Meanwhile, the production values have gone up significantly, everything is clearer than ever (perhaps they might finally shake off that pesky “noise rock” tag) and they are usually augmented by keyboards, horns, and other instruments. Lead single “En Mis Genes” might be the best example of their evolution; a picture perfect song with crystalline guitar riffs, gentle rhythms, horns, and plenty of emotional resonance. They experiment plenty throughout the album but it’s always in the service of the song; take, for example, “Función y Guía,” a track that ends with spacey delays, vintage electric organ, and smooth saxophone.

Nefertiti is exciting not only because it’s a record that reaches a new level in all departments for Protistas’ career, but because it’s also a challenge for the Chilean scene not to rest on their laurels now that they have been hitting all bases. Perhaps they won’t have the influential reach of Gepe, Javiera Mena or Dënver, but Protistas are a reminder that they are not the only ones making amazing songs, or that the only way to achieve notoriety is to make retro bubblegum pop. There’s a place in the world for dance parties as well as nostalgic Sunday evenings.