Opening with a minimalist strut across the piano keys, “La Bikina,” the new single from Esteban Alvarez’s fantastic new full-length LP Piano Meets Mariachi, it doesn’t take long for us to get this idea that this is not mariachi music as we have been brought up to understand it. No, Alvarez is crafting something a little more complex and cerebral than that. In “La Bikina,” we’re sampling from a plate full of the most diverse offering of tastes and identities than any other we’re being offered going into summer 2018, and it feels completely acceptable to be a little over-indulgent with this one.
Esteban Alvarez is absolutely the audiological equivalent of that rich, decadent dessert that becomes “cheat food” when you start a diet. There’s just something so intoxicating about his bravado-laced exposé of tonality and colorful rhythm. Yes, overindulgence can sometimes be a good thing, but don’t think for a moment that Alvarez’s foray into this approach has made his work come off as self-serving or egomaniacal. Actually, the case couldn’t be much more different than that.
There’s a certain selflessness that is conveyed through his relationship with the piano that you simply can’t describe within the contexts of the English language. They seem to have a mutual understanding, Alvarez and that piano do. It’s like they’re playing off of each other instead of a man taking charge over an inanimate musical instrument. They’re like a pair of bantering brothers; they’re the closest of siblings, but you know that they know how to really press each other’s buttons. Their intimate sessions are captured so brilliantly on Piano Meets Mariachi, and one can’t help but feel a little spoiled when listening to the album in its entirety.
There’s a quaint, rural quality to “La Bikina” that sets it apart from the other tracks on Piano Meets Mariachi, and perhaps the best way to describe it would be to call it a swinging, sometimes contemplative (but never hesitant) pastoral ballad. There’s a swing that doesn’t really get heated up until towards the end of the song, but by the time we get there, it feels like we’ve already been on quite the adventurous journey just to get this far. That’s probably Alvarez’s signature move right there; never letting his listeners slow down or get content. His music is constantly provoking us to engage with him and his craft, and our mental breakdown of this audio is half the fun of experiencing what its composer has to offer. In that sense, “La Bikina” is like reading an excerpt from a gripping novella; not enough to cost to book it’s enigmatic mystique, but certainly a great introduction to the sort of content that we can come to expect from the author.
“La Bikina” and Piano Meets Mariachi are both out now everywhere that independent, artist-driven music is sold, and I highly recommend fans across the pop spectrum check it out while it’s hot off the press. Few artists have as much devotion to what they do as Esteban Alvarez does, and if that’s not something worth writing about, I don’t know what is.
Find the album on AMAZON
-review by Eli Gattis