If You Dream of a Better World, Listen to Dos Santos' Boundless New Record

The Chicago quintet's new album 'Logos' was made during an intense time in the summer of 2017. Its genre-obliterating, question-inviting approach offers a way forward for the openminded.

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Jun 12 2018, 5:36pm

Photo by Andrea Falcone

Dos Santos’ new album was born from a place of intensity. They say about as much in a documentary about the making of the record, gesturing at the terrible run of a few months, on a geopolitical scale, that marked the middle of 2017. Hurricane Maria caused a humanitarian catastrophe that Puerto Rico is still recovering from, the Charlottesville rally and ensuing protests became an extremely visible marker racial violence happening around the country. The world, as it often does these days, felt like it was teetering wildly, barely in control. It was in those months that the Chicago quintet began making their new record, which they say functioned as a way of holding off the bad feelings.

“As you’re weighed down by this sense of the unbelievable happening, we at the same time were able to carve out this space where we could just carve out the creative process,” singer and multi-instrumentalist Alex Chavez says in the doc. “All of a sudden the rest of the world is kind of muted, at least for those few hours.”

They made a single block of the Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport their oasis, bouncing between a small handful of recording spaces of varying degrees of officialness. What resulted from those sessions was Logos—an 11-track record due June 15 on local genre-flouting but jazz-centered label International Anthem (and streaming here today)—a surprisingly uplifting record, given the heavy context that birthed it. Throughout the record, the quintet—which also includes Peter Vale, Daniel Villarreal-Carrillo, Jaime Garza, and Nathan Karagianis—offer a complicated sort of bombast, riding psychedelic riffery and heraldic horn stabs to moments of genuine ecstasy. even as grayer dissonance and rhythmic contortions darken the margins, it’s the sound of finding a center in spite of it all, or a peace in the midst of turmoil.

Over email, Chavez says it isn’t meant to sound celebratory exactly, but “assertive and true, quite ardent, vigorous.” It is the sound of overcoming, with a sort of self-assuredness, the sort of sound that forces you to lean in and take careful note of what’s being said—things said with such conviction need to be taken with a certain gravity. “It doesn’t let up, forcing you to actively listen,” he says.

The title, Logos, is a reference to the Greek concept of logic or reason, which on a surface level undersells the project of Chavez’s lyrics, which occasionally take big concepts, but finds the humanity in them. It’s telling on the title track that he talks about the act of communication, but does so in a way that’s almost biological. "Cuéntame en palabras que aún conozco” (“ Tell me in words that I, too, speak”), he sings. “Mírame los ojos, háblame a el oído” (“ Look into my eyes, talk into my ear”). Per Chavez, the overall sentiment comes from another connotation of the word. “[Logos] also connotes discourse, to plea with, to reach understanding, a mutual sense of knowledge. Dialogue,” he explains “And so Logos, the album, opens up a conversational space, at once social, political, cultural, and aesthetic.”

Each song, consequently, is intended as a sort of invitation for the listener to inhabit a space with Dos Santos, a band who pride themselves on the melting-pot like qualities of their construction. Members of the band have backgrounds in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, and Texas and they draw on the DNA of jazz, salsa, folkloric music, as well as intercontinental traditions of psychedelia. There is a sort of utopian quality to a project like theirs, where every music is given equal footing, and each player an equal voice in determining their shared musical grammar. So to be invited into that is a special thing, there is some degree of communing in their egalitarian vision, just by virtue of opening your mind to their music. “Logos, therefore, is born of the cultural logic at play in the here and now,” Chavez says. “And for us, that here and now requires us to level with, understand, and listen to voices laid bare, exposed, and vulnerable amid the stark realities of a kind of inhumanity that we are witnessing right now.”

There are moments throughout the record that illustrate the sort of discourse that Chavez imagines, but none more so to my ears than “Sole Party,” a woozy, slinking instrumental that underpins a moving meditation on “mobility, journeys, migration, and claiming space,” penned by the band’s good friend Roger Reeves. His passage begins with a statement of intent (“We come borderless, but full of body”) and only becomes more emphatic from there, a statement of power and intent to a society whose most powerful people hold xenophobia and racism as core value. The parting shot treated with a distant echo, is striking, “We come waking you into the future.”

Chavez’s lyrics, written in Spanish, were written in response to Reeves’ piece, which he says embodies the collaborative spirit that underpins both this record and the project of Dos Santos as a whole. If there is a refuge from the horrors outside of us, Dos Santos seem to suggest it is in this, the free and bountiful exchange of ideas and hopes and dreams among friends and fellow travelers, a joy—or at least a forcefulness—found in community. A choir of voices will always ring louder.

You’d do well to partake in this conversation too, which you can do, if you listen to Logos up above in advance of its release this Friday on International Anthem.