Home Read Albums Of The Week: Hermanos Gutiérrez | Sonido C​ó​smico

Albums Of The Week: Hermanos Gutiérrez | Sonido C​ó​smico

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Onstage, in an old church in Santa Fe during the tour for their last record El Bueno Y El Malo, brothers Estevan and Alejandro Gutiérrez looked at each other, their guitars in their laps, the crowd attentive to their soulful, braided playing. It was the third song of their set, and they didn’t speak or gesture to one another to acknowledge what was happening. They were both crying.

Neither hesitates to recall the moment — it lives vividly between them, a shared memory — but putting words to the emotion they felt remains difficult. It was a special night in a charged environment, this holy place in a desert city in New Mexico. “It felt like we were a medium,” says Estevan, the older of the two men. Alejandro agrees. “Sometimes you get hit by this emotional perception that you are the one playing the music,” he says. A connection with something bigger than this life, in this place, on this planet — it passes through the brothers into their playing and into the audience. It’s a kind of miracle that exists beyond words, beyond reason. In many ways, this ineffable feeling is the heart of Sonido Cósmico, the new Hermanos Gutiérrez album.

The title in English translates to cosmic sound. Music that is not of this earth. Deep, infinite. Without lyrics to spell the way, instrumental music always invites the listener to engage in acts of imagination. Early Hermanos Gutiérrez records conjured feelings of motion and travel; hope in desolate places; a beautiful melancholy in the face of existence. Desert scenes. Baking-hot highways. The sun gradually falling behind a mesa. Sonido Cósmico, Estevan explains, is meant to lift you away from the desert. “It’s not on Earth; we’ve started to fly,” Estevan says.

Sonido Cósmico demanded new levels of confidence and ambition, the seeds of which were planted on El Bueno Y El Malo. That was their first record made with legendary producer and guitarist Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), at his label, Easy Eye Sound Studio, in Nashville. On some level, El Bueno Y El Malo was an experiment: what would happen if the brothers, so accustomed to working alone, brought a trusted professional into their world? As the millions of plays attest to, it worked very well. That album expanded their palette without compromising the band’s first principles. Auerbach, who they refer to as their third brother, played on the album — their first time introducing a third guitarist into the mix — and introduced new levels of percussion; organ playing, too. With a firm foundation established — the first test run successful — Sonido Cósmico reaches higher, for the stars.

The title track was a kind of breakthrough that made the rest of the album possible. “We didn’t want to write El Bueno Y El Malo Vol. 2,” Estevan says bluntly, meaning they needed to find a new path. While they’ve previously explored musical traditions from Latin America, including their mother’s Ecuadorian roots, they found inspiration for this album in the rhythm and feeling of cumbia and salsa. From Auerbach, they learned that there was no right and wrong in composing music, and to stop worrying about repeating themselves. “As long as it’s you, and you’re authentic, it’s going to be fine,” Auerbach told them.

An Hermanos Gutiérrez song often begins like this: Estevan or Alejandro, exploring alone, will happen upon something interesting while playing. For instance, Los Navegantes, a spare and lyrical song in the album’s back half, started life one evening in Switzerland, when Alejandro took up the guitar at their mother’s house. A place where he feels unguarded and, consequently, more creative, the home is about 40 minutes outside of Bern, the Swiss capital, in the flatlands of the country. This particular night he played a G chord and instead of sounding familiar, he heard an opportunity. He found the next chord and before long he had the bones of an idea to share with Estevan, who then came up with the distinctive fingerpicking melody that makes Los Navegantes gleam. The finished version is cinematic and roving; it sounds like nothing else on Sonido Cósmico, but suits the album all the same.

Sonido Cósmico, the title track, is marked by a restless curiosity; the guitar playing is propulsive and the subtle touch of strings gives it a grandeur that sets the tone for the album as a whole. Like an orchestra was present, introducing the title cards for some moody space opera. Indeed, the brothers found themselves thinking about science-fiction when they wrote the album. Denis Villeneuve’s recent adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune impressed Estevan and Alejandro. A nonstop flight from Switzerland to California takes approximately 12 hours, and on separate flights the brothers watched the epic tale, taking in the surreal landscapes and planetary stakes of the conflict between warring nations. During the writing of Sonido Cósmico, Alejandro brought an idea to Estevan, and immediately Estevan told him it reminded him of the film. Alejandro replied, “Exactly.” Neither had discussed watching the movie with the other; the brothers are connected in ineffable ways.

Low Sun, with its bold drumming, much more intense than on previous Hermanos Gutiérrez records, arrives early on the album, prompting the listener to prepare for something a bit different. If recording the last album with Auerbach created a productive discomfort, the result of a new and esteemed collaborator, returning to Nashville for round two found the brothers far more comfortable with the new and unexpected. For instance, for the first time the brothers wrote a song from scratch at the studio, rather than their preferred method of writing at home in Switzerland and bringing close-to-finished material to the recording studio.

Misterio Verde, the haunting closing song, was composed entirely in Nashville, and the title is a nod to the particularly dark shade of green favored by Easy Eye Sound at its facilities. Some of the consoles, many of the walls bear this strange green that the brothers drew inspiration for to find the perfect closing number for the record. To hear them tell it, this kind of on-the-spot act of creation would not have been possible before, when they were still getting their feel for Auerbach and his methods. (The group chat the three have maintained since recording El Bueno Y El Malo has surely helped build trust and familiarity — while also providing a space for getting some jokes off.)

Sonido Cósmico is that rare album — it’s richer without being esoteric; inquisitive and experimental without going too far afield; and familiar without being a retread. In a beautiful coincidence, this bold, expansive record will arrive in the same year that Hermanos Gutiérrez play Coachella for the first time (not to mention their biggest-ever headlining dates including the Ryman and two nights at Brooklyn Steel, and a run with Khruangbin). The desert of Indio will provide the ideal setting for the very special cosmic trip the brothers have cooked up. The journey from the desert to the stars, literalized.”