Argentine Federico Aubele is first and foremost a guitar player. But inspired by artists as diverse as avant-garde tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Wes Montgomery, and Thievery Corporation, he set out to create a solo record that crossed electronica, dub, and Latin guitar music while capturing the sound and feeling of Buenos Aires. The resulting album, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires — actually produced by Thievery Corporation and released on their label, ESL — is like the reverse image of trip-hop. Aubele’s songs are atmospheric, driven by sampled beats, and even employ scratching in some cases, but unlike trip-hop, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires is sunny, free-spirited, and celebratory.
Always at the center of tracks like “Ante Tus Ojos” and “Despertar” is Aubele’s hypnotic guitar. Around that he collages an entire band worth of instruments and samples and, finally, sultry female vocals sung in Spanish — provided by friends of Aubele from Buenos Aires. The format seems ultimately liberating, allowing Aubele the ability to masterfully apply solid hip-hop beats to jazzy Latin numbers (“Esta Noche” for example) and to allow what could be Argentine folk songs to drift into the realm of electronic ambience and dub (the beautiful “Diario de Viaje”). Gran Hotel Buenos Aires is a wholly brilliant album and Federico Aubele may be to Argentina what Sigur Rós is to Iceland: the most forward-thinking and experimental artist to capture the sound of his homeland’s cultural, symbolic, and physical geography.