May 21, 2021
Jess Sylvester’s (aka Marinero) Debut for Sub Pop Hardly Art Print is an openly written love letter to an earlier San Francisco era, to her parents’ roots and the joys of music. Borrowing heavily from the Latin influenced styles of flamenco, mariachi, bossa nova and more Americanized genres, Sylvester weaves a tapestry of his mother’s Mexican heritage, his father’s sea-swept adventures (hence the nickname Sylvester Marinero) and his own displacement from the Golden Gate City. A victim of the city’s dot-com gentrification, Sylvester moved to Los Angeles, where most of the Hello Love has been registered. His seemingly effortless hopscotch musical approach is colored by a nostalgic longing rather than an air of contention over a forced departure from the city he loves.
The album opens with the fitting title “Fanfare”, a brief but revealing track. Initially flavored with muted percussion similar to sounds from Los Lobos spinoff project Latin Playboys, the instrumental piece transforms into a layered trumpet call to signal the beginning of Sylvester’s story. Although brief, “Fanfare” emphasizes the fluidity of styles Sylvester uses to go from start to finish, which in turn reflects the rich diversity of The Mission neighborhood which is the starting point of the album.
The central core of the songs here, starting with “Nuestra Victoria”, takes the listener to the level of a drone flying over the main areas of the city. “Nuestra Victoria” leans over her gentle furrow and tells the story of the bakery where her mother worked and which is now closed. “Luz del Faro” looms large in the middle of the album, showcasing Sylvester’s skills as a conductor and style tackler. The song begins as a playful mariachi with Sylvester taking a relaxed vocal turn, fuses percussion and drums in its center, horns in the stretch, then turns into a psychedelic Summer of Love whirlwind at the end. “Outerlands” resembles the Southern California sound of Sylvester’s new home, with a Beach Boy-inspired sound worthy of Brian Wilson’s most tender compositions. Finally, “Beyond the Rainbow Tunnel” takes us to the passage of Sausolito which serves both as a point of entry and exit to the city. Compressed passages alternate with unfettered passages that correspond to the act of traversing the tunnel with the twists of multicolored vehicles spinning past in both directions.
Ironically, the title song begins with clips from radio shows, including one that announces a “dot-com” cut early on. Part of it was the proliferation of millionaires in the tech industry that pushed the median home price in California to over three-quarters of a million dollars and led to the state’s first-ever population decline since its founding in 1850. While those stats are what prompted Marinero to define sail to more economical shores, Sylvester’s softly sung falsetto on “Hella Love” relieves some of the pain and is reminiscent of Whitney’s Julien Ehrlich. The song itself would be suitable as a release from this group. Light on the lake album, and reflects on meeting Sylvester’s parents and his own departure.
At the end of the album, Sylvester evokes the styles of Serge Gainsbourg (“Maritime”), the occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of all tribes (“Alcatraz Island”), and even some disco vibes. high-hat on the fence piece (“Frisco Ball”). While it seems like a lot is happening over the course of the album, it certainly is, but it all unfolds as naturally as the most subtle of João Gilberto’s classic bossa nova. Sylvester embraces his Chicano heritage, the multiple Latin and other inflections that color his music, and the city he adores from afar. Some Marinero albums in, Hello Love also heralds the arrival of a conductor capable of arranging a range of musicians and instruments across a wide range of styles, often within the confines of a single song. Sylvester’s decision to design the album around a theme seems both intimidating and the most natural thing in the world. Ultimately, Hello Love merges as an elegantly understated masterpiece of municipal proportions. (www.maringuero.bandcamp.com)
Author’s Note: 8.5/ten