The Italian band "Tango Spleen" is no stranger to my playlists: they know how to make a catchy tune!
From their debut album recorded in 2011 to "Se Encendieron Los Colores" released in August 2023, there's a consistent trend towards a modern yet very melodic reimagining of tango. Their style neither clings to traditional arrangements nor seeks to deconstruct them in a post-modern fashion.
Think of it this way: if someone has just created the tango genre in 2010s, it might very well sound like Tango Spleen!
To emphasize this point: Mariano Speranza, the band leader, composed six of the nine tracks on this album. That level of originality is rare nowadays and worthy of praise.
Nueve de julio is instantly recognizable in both shape and form and might be the only straightforward "cover" on the album. With a brisk tempo of 70 BPM, it's one of the fastest renditions except for a roughly 20-second section starting at around 1'15". Although I generally prefer regular tempos, I believe this tempo 'dip' should be manageable on the dance floor. Great opener to a fast instrumental tanda!
In Carnaval de mi Barrio, Mariano Speranza, the band leader, takes the mic to showcase Tango Spleen's ability to revive an aging tune. They add as much passion and expression as the piece can absorb, without overdoing it. At first glance, the song might seem familiar, but pay attention to the subtle counterpoints and rhythmic play the band engages in while Mariano sings. I found it delightful and inspiring to dance.
The vals Elva quickly made it to the top of my list of favorite contemporary valses, and although this list isn't very long, I feel strongly about it. When DJing for traditional audiences, I often play contemporary valses or milongas to add variety, while keeping the tango tandas closer to the Golden Age style. Elva is a very welcome addition to my repertoire, and I find myself liking it more with each listen.
It has all the elements that tanguer*s love about vals: an awesome "kick", strong lyricism, and a kind of "infectious" vibe that's hard to describe but instantly recognizable when felt. I would pair it with Ángela and Lágrimas y sonrisas from their 2018 album "Contatto."
Barro y Spleen descends from the Piazzolla branch of tango and has a lot of sharp edges. While convincing on purely musical merits, it might find fewer willing bodies to recreate its beats with four feet, hearts connected. If I could wave a magic wand and erase Piazzolla from history, I would; even from his grave, he keeps seducing young musicians to stray from the righteous path of danceable tango!
Your assessment might vary, of course, and I'm not pretending to be objective here. Barro y Spleen is a splendid musical mystery that will find its audience. And if I later find out that people love dancing to it, I'll be happy to stand corrected!
The milonga La musa del arrabal is a strange beast and I still feel conflicted about it. Previously released as a single, it has the right tempo around 102 BPM and you can hear the underlying milonga beat most of the time.
That said, I feel that the song pushes me a bit too forcefully and fear what the impact on the ronda would look like. I close my eyes and see chaos 😁. Perhaps it's the subtle underlying percussion that adds this intensity. Then again, being a milonga candombe, this is on brand. With the right crowd, this could turn out to be a lot of fun; proceed with caution.
Part of the issue is that we get so few milongas during the course of a traditional TTVTTM night. So the DJ has to be really picky about which songs to play, and unfortunately, they tend to be rather conservative since there are so few milonga milongueros out there. If it were up to me, every other tanda would be a milonga tanda. And in that scenario, I would be happy to put La musa del arrabal to the test!
You may have danced to Tu pálida voz as recorded by Canaro in 1943 or by Di Sarli in 1953. Both versions are lovely, despite their dangerously slow tempos. Personally, I would overrule the author's intent and boost the BPMs by at least 5.
Tango Spleen's cover does not go in that direction and while we hear a female voice (feat. Sarita Schena), the vibes are very relaxed here. It caresses you gently throughout, evoking feelings of being loved and cared for.
The milonga Pegadiza has all it takes to win over appreciative milonga fans. The tempo sits in the golden spot at around 102 BPM and its rhythmical structure is extremely conducive to playful moves. As an original track, I feel it would pair very well with Baillamo by Andariega, even though these bands have distinct styles. Obviously, you'd have to get luck to dance in a milonga-positive community that is also progressive enough for this to work but boy, would this work!
Chacarera de la Paz is, well, a chacarera. I'm mindful of the appeal of the Argentine folkore to tango festival-goers even as I sit these out. If you're in need of a fresh new chacarera, you'll find plenty to like here!
Finally, Un después. It shares some drama with Barro y Spleen without venturing too far away from the dance floor. The sense of urgency in this piece is palpable, showcasing how to construct a powerful narrative that challenges dancers without making overwhelming demands. As the album's finale, I feel it would also work as the concluding piece in a complex, dramatic tanda.
I am delighted that Tango Spleen has shifted their focus back to dancers after their last album, Vamos a la Distinacia, paid tribute to the old devil Piazzolla, much to my chagrin.
With one or two exceptions that I would make but you might not, this albums broadens the repertoire of any progressive tango DJ who cares about helping tango live longer.
I find the Italian flair of Tango Spleen highly addictive. It's more approachable than German tango bands, which can be sometimes too academic in their precision, and does not take their expression to the extremes that the Argentines are wont to do (looking at you, Romantica!)
Thank you, Tango Spleen, for also making so much original contribution to the sparse repertoire of new, original tango music! This is not an easy feat, I'd imagine, given that we live in an era that is so much different from when tango was originally conceived. For this, I am very grateful, and I encourage all of you to join me in dancing to Tango Spleen's vibes.