This debut album from Las Robertas – four women from Costa Rica and contenders for a riot grrrl tiara – has come along at exactly the right time. The British summer (with some actual sun at time of writing!) is in full swing and these girls play freedom, sun, surf and love – mores specifically, the end of it – in an in-the-backyard jamming style. Cry Out Loud plants them right into an increasingly repopularised area. Tagged as lo-fi girl punk, it would make perfect sense to see them rocking up on bills along with the likes of the Vivian and Dum Dum Girls.
Like Times New Viking, Las Robertas operate at the absolute lowest end of lo-fi. Some of the guitar riffs are so distorted they have more fuzz than your favourite jumper gone one too many times around the dryer. On first listen, there are three things that stand out – those rolling guitar dust balls, pounded drum skins and ’60s-style surf harmonies – and throughout these ten originals these features have varying effect.
Lead track ‘History Is Done’ is predominantly persistent metallic guitar fuzz, and on top of this lies flat, drawn out harmonies with a tail-end echo of “I’m leaving you behind… / I’ve got to go away, don’t want to stay.” With that constant growl vibrating your eardrums you might start to hear those echoes as lyrical skidmarks on an imagined highway, along which you can see the girls’ disappearing backs, “Forever gone / forever gone / forever gone.” But with rough-edged vocals that sound like a Hummer with four flat tires scrawling patterns in the gravel, it’s not an easy listen.
On the other hand, ‘Damn ’92’, a song about vengeance and control, is dominated by beaten skins and thrashed percussion as singer Lola Miche strings her story over the top. But while the drum beat is frantic and certainly evokes the panic and anger of the lyrics, there is something missing – the rarely absent harmonies and guitar growl are still there in the backseat, but the spark perhaps gets lost beneath the angry cymbal smashes.
‘Street Feelings’ is a different experience again. An opening drum beat reminiscent of The Shirelles’ ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ leads into that same guitar but some gentler harmonies. In the nicest way, the end of the song is worth the wait for its poignant, hopeful lyrics – “Now there is no sun, but I know how to keep me warm” – and a relaxed, playful guitar-feedback tease.
Another twist in the Las Robertas story, ‘V For You’ is almost another band. Still fuzzy, still harmony-rich, but this time the two are working together. Slow, hypnotic vocals glide across the growling guitar and rise above it with delicate “oooh”s. An electric guitar sings the vocal pattern at the centre of the song, clear and as sweet as the harmony it imitates, it is unique to this album and really quite beautiful.
Las Robertas do sun, surf, youthful love and freedom well, but Cry Out Loud goes a little heavy on the distortion to make as much of an impact as some of their immediate peers. Once you get past the white noise, however, there are moments of real inspiration. Guitarist Mercedes Oller plays like a natural and Miche’s vocals can trace your spine. Definitely worth a rummage.
[Self-released; May 1, 2010]
Tagged las robertas