There are certain times and places where the right people come to together at the right time to create music that transcends both time and place. It should come as no surprise, then, that out of Mexico – a country which boasts the most florid abundance of musical diversity on the planet – would emerge one of today’s most fascinating rock bands: CNVS.
More specifically, that place is Querétaro, in the El Bajío region of the country, which (in a land of mariachi, banda, jaropo, huapango, norteño, marimba, ranchero, grupero, and literally dozens of other genres and cross-genres) has become a haven for rock, pop, punk, and jazz.
The well-trained – both through experience and schooling – musicians of CNVS have each been active in numerous other professional projects, regarding each other with mutual respect until the time came for them to join together as musical brothers-in-arms.
Ready for Take Off
Beloved in their hometown, CNVS (pronounced “Canvas”) has also played the biggest rock and pop festivals in Mexico, as well as opening for Spoon in Mexico City. After their highly successful EP CNVS, they are gearing up to release their first full-length album Gran Copiloto.
We first discovered CNVS through their cover of Juan Gabriel’s 1980 hit “Yo No Nací Para Amar” (translation: I Was Not Born To Love). Later, in an extensive interview with the band, we learned that what they learned as they jammed on that tune inspired their upcoming release, Gran Copiloto.
Scheduled for release on Friday, June 15th 2018, CNVS has given Musical U a special sneak preview of the Gran Copiloto album tracks – some of which we’ll share with you here – and we were blown away.
This is a record of what has been called “rock bailable – danceable rock” that you’re going to want to listen to over and over.
Let’s first learn more about the band, the general musical characteristics of Gran Copiloto, and then dig into some deep listening.
Your Best Sidekick
As Isaac, the band’s lead guitarist and purveyor of “atmospheric sounds”, said in our interview, “[The phrase] “Gran Copiloto” (“Great Copilot”) refers to the best sidekick you can possibly have in an adventure – this could be the guy that plays the best music on road trips, or the love of your life who took you on a trip to Iceland.”
and you helped me
as a good friend
a great co-pilot who carried me
a great co-pilot when I take off
(translated from Spanish)
That feeling of friendship and camaraderie pervades the album, which is sung in both Spanish and English. In this era of reclusive “music producers” cranking out dance hits on their laptops, Gran Copiloto truly a band effort. And these guys can play.
As we learned from the interview, the band members each lead their own separate lives. But their website title, SomosCanvas.com, means “We are Canvas”: when they come together as “we”, magic happens. CNVS does much of their writing in improvised jam sessions, which then coalesce into songs, and their music is full of the kinds of surprises that only happen in those unpremeditated moments.
Colors on the Canvas
Listen to this clip from the track “Blues”. The instrumental section cruises on slowly, building over ringing tick-tock guitars. Listen to the background to all the subtle shifts and variations in the atmospheric effects and intricate guitar parts that lend a bubbling energy to this quiet section. Then the small surprise comes in the middle [0:24] where a deep bass synth doubles the kick just once before disappearing (you might need your headphones to hear it):
But this is not your traditional jam band. Two band members are highly-trained, active producers and studio owners – and they bring their studio chops into the live mix.
Along with bass, drums, and guitar, each member is armed with some sort of synth, and CNVS delivers powerful EDM-inspired drops and a variety of atmospheric sounds that somehow manage to sound as nuanced, spontaneous, and organic as their “live” instruments.
Traditionally, Mexican music seems to revel in an abundance of contrasting and suddenly shifting tone colors – trumpets dance with violins in mariachi, accordions battle bajo sextos in norteño, and pop songs will often jump from acoustic guitars to electronic percussion to full orchestras at a moment’s notice.
CNVS shares this love affair with contrasting tone colors. But in an album with so many timbral surprises, there are certain unifying factors.
While we may “live in cities which are built up over water”, Gran Copiloto is built up on the firm foundation of a twangy bass, a powerful, beefy drum sound, and a trademark piercingly-beautiful-with-an-edge guitar tone that remains consistent throughout the album.
For lead guitarist Isaac, this is an instrument in and of itself. Almost every song opens or closes with a uniquely crafted ambient sound, that becomes a sort of signature for that song.
Listen to the sustained tone in the opening of “Blues”:
Similarly, “Montaña” begins with an atmospheric drone before the vocals kick in:
And ends on a pulsing note that echoes the opening:
The lyrics – whether in Spanish or English – tend to be short, punchy, and enigmatic.
As we learned in the interview, these words often emerge in improvised sessions, coming from a deep subconscious place that at times defies the logic of the “real world”. CNVS collaborates with some amazing video artists to translate this lyrical dreamscape into images:
“Memoria” and Musical Form
Let’s have a closer look at this single from the album, available through a special release from Rolling Stone Magazine. The video vividly portrays a man paralyzed by too many memories, who isn’t able to move until he (literally) loses his head.
In most of the tracks on Gran Copiloto, CNVS takes a flexible approach to classic song form, interspersing short verses, choruses, and or bridges with instrumental sections that are sometimes unique and sometimes repeat. They seem to be driven by a strong internal logic of their own, beginning to end.
“Memoria” opens with its own signature atmospheric vibe, this time with a bit more harmonic structure [0:00-0:25]. Rather than a verse, the vocals burst in with a hard-rocking chorus [0:25 – 0:56] – in fact, there really is no verse in this song.
This first chorus is followed by a repeated bass note – a drone – on the characteristically twangy bass, with Isaac demonstrating his mastery of creating atmospheric effects. The instrumental texture opens up, leaving sonic space for a vocal bridge melody at [1:10]. Another instrumental section begins at [1:26] with atmospheric guitar and a prominent kick, softly accompanied by EDM-style bass bleeps (once again illustrating CNVS’ timbral playfulness).
The rock chorus returns at [1:39], followed by a short instrumental break – most definitely “rock bailable” (danceable rock) at [1:55], leading into another bridge section. Note the dull electric piano chords that appear briefly here. Gran Piloto is full of little details like this: brief timbral interjections that appear and disappear in a flash, but make perfect sense in the whole scheme of the song.
The chorus returns over brief atmospheric tone poem before rocking out. Then, the instrumental groove changes up [2:42] and drives toward the end, growing thicker [3:10] under a three-note motif of “A-F-E”, and finally taking its leave in a momentary atmospheric aftertaste.
CNVS maintains a joyful demeanor even in the midst of angst-rock lyrics, but they are also ready to rise to the occasion of romance. From “Campirana” (“Country Woman”):
|Cuando pisas fuerte
Dices siempre la verdad
Buscas la felicidad
|When you step strong
You always tell the truth
You search for the happiness
Listen to how a sweet perfume of respect, admiration, and appreciation rises from the bouquet of major seventh chords in the instrumental break:
Echoes of the Past
The members of CNVS also give their love to the span of rock history. For example, “Black Magic” brings back 1950s “shoobie-doo-bop” syllables in the midst of a T-Rex inspired romp – with more than a little “Let’s Dance”-era Bowie thrown in:
A Future Classic?
The amazing attention to detail coupled with highly developed musicianship and wrapped up in an undeniable musical chemistry between the five members of CNVS make this one of those albums you’re going to want to listen to again and again and again. With a musical richness reminiscent of a condensed Pink Floyd, there are new discoveries to be made every time we let CNVS take us on a sonic journey.
If you’ve got your headphones and dancing shoes ready, follow CNVS on Facebook and listen on Spotify and Soundcloud. Be prepared to put on your active listening ears for all the hidden treasures that await you in their masterful mix. And take a hint from these masters – add sonic surprises and subtle atmospherics to your songs to keep your listeners engaged and hungry for more.