It is not an exaggeration to say that Sergio Chotsourian is perhaps the most important figure in South American heavy rock and roll in the last 20 years. Since the mid-’90s, he has spread an influence outward from Buenos Aires, Argentina, first in early Natas releases like Delmar and Ciudad de Brahman, as well as through that band’s later work as Los Natas and into other acts like the more experimental trio Ararat, whose three albums to-date stand as testament to a broadening aesthetic palette. Further evidence of that comes in projects like the one-off Solodolor, the newly-formed Soldati, Chotsourian‘s soundtrack to the film Los Viajes, and his recent collaboration with his daughter, Isabel Chotsourian on a digital single featuring the track “La Sal y Arroz” (posted here).
That song is of clear personal significance — a full-band version also appeared on Ararat‘s latest, 2014’s Cabalgata Hacia la Luz (review here) — and so it’s fitting that the solo rendition should lead off Chotsourian‘s first outing under the nom de plume Sergio Ch., 1974. Self-recorded and issued through his own South American Sludge imprint, 1974 began life as a short digital collection of home demos, but was eventually branched out to a 52-minute/13-song full-length. In addition to “La Sal y Arroz,” it also shares “Las Piedras,” “La Historia de Hanuman,” “La Familia y las Guerras,” “Los Escombros del Jardin” and “Los Viajes” with the aforementioned most recent Ararat, so it’s probably fair to think of the two as companions, though in truth, Chotsourian‘s work has blended together from one release to the next over the better part of the last decade, as evidenced in the move from the last (to-date) Los Natas record, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (review here), into the self-titled Ararat debut (review here), along the same piano progression in 2009.
Piano is a key factor in the overall impression of 1974. Like John Lennon‘s Dakota demos, some of these tracks revolve around the minimal arrangements of piano and/or voice, as on the beginning of “Los Barcos,” or in “4737 Minutos” (that’s about 3.2 days), “Los Viajes” and the closing title-track. Even when not being played, the resonance of the piano seems to remain, whether it’s in bell chords or plucked notes on acoustic guitar in “Bed Room” or “Las Melodias,” or the subtly psychedelic echo on “Las Piedras” and the standout “Los Escombros del Jardin.”
Sergio Ch. brings in Walter Broide (Los Natas) and Alfredo Felitte (Ararat) to help on drums periodically and Milagros Arrom for a violin guest spot on “Los Barcos,” but otherwise 1974 is entirely his own, vocals, bass, guitar and the keys. He layers his voice depending on the song, resulting in varied atmospheres between built-out tracks like “La Sal y Arroz” and “Las Piedras” and more singular stretches like the minute-long “La Blusa,” a quick excursion of jangly slide guitar perhaps to lighten the atmosphere following “La Historia de Hanuman” and “La Familia y las Guerras,” which together typify the emotional weight under which a fair portion of the record is operating. These and “Los Barcos,” “4737 Minutos,” the rawer “Las Melodias” and “1974” create a melancholy crux, the wistfulness set forth in the opener built upon for the duration until the title-track seems to round out by cutting short having asked more questions than it answered. That, of course, is a guess, because the lyrics are in Spanish and that’s one of the many, many languages my ignorant ass doesn’t speak, but the prevailing impression comes through nonetheless of these tracks being as much an exploration of feelings as sonics.
As a result, 1974, like a lot of solo offerings, is deeply personal. Its sound is broad and expressive and gripping, enough so that one barely notices as elements like percussion, bass, violin, piano, etc., come and go and come again. These things are part of the overarching reach of Sergio Ch.‘s solo work, established here for the first time but definitely constructed from an ambience he’s brought to life in his bands before. The familiarity of some of this material bleeds through the different arrangements as well, and perhaps 1974 could come across as a richer listen for anyone who caught Cabalgata Hacia la Luz, but the other is by no means a prerequisite for the one. Though they share some songs, the two albums stand alone and the fluidity that Chotsourian brings to these tracks remains steady throughout the CD runtime.
That said, it’s easy — particularly given his track record for such things — to imagine that some of these songs might end up on future Chotsourian-related releases. Indeed they already have if one counts the Isabel y Sergio Ch. version of “La Sal y Arroz,” but even beyond that, fuller-arrangements of “Las Melodias” and “El Pastor de la Hormigas” seem by no means out of the question. Whether or not that happens — and if it does, with what project — of course will remain to be seen, but even if this stuff does continue to show up elsewhere, 1974 will remain a landmark in Chotsourian‘s catalog, because it’s the first full-length to bear his name alone and for the new sonic territory it covers in relation to his prior accomplishments. In mood, performance and execution, it engages on a richly human level.