On his fourth album, Argentine guitarist and songwriter Federico Aubele takes both the production and mixing reins for the first time. Berlin 13's title refers to the two-year period he spent living in the German city after leaving Buenos Aries, and to the thirteenth card in the Major Arcana of the tarot: Death. Berlin 13 is also significant for Aubele because it glues together the various strengths he's displayed on his previous recordings without their excesses or missteps. There are the big, bass-heavy beats and loops that made 2004's Gran Hotel Buenos Aries stand out, the delicate, spidery, near-virtuosic nylon-string guitar lines that evoke tango, fado, flamenco, and jazz that have appeared on all of his records; there's the songwriter’s gift for intimacy, subtlety, and melody from 2007’s Panamericana, and the ambitious genre melding, atmospheric evocations of other world music traditions from 2009’s Amatoria. The set kicks off dubwise with “Berlin.” A DJ’s scratch beat, a bubbling bassline, and Aubele's otherworldly melodica accompany his guitar as swirling synths pan the channels à la Lee Perry. He sings in duet with Natalia Clavier, creating a sultry groove as sonic effects paint the backdrop underneath the dominant bass, kit, and hand-drums. “No One” features some of the same dubbed-out elements in a downtempo vamp with tinges of tango, fado, and Latin percussion accompanying the tangle in Aubele’s and Clavier’s voices. The album’s single, “Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue,” co-written with Jesse Harris, marries tango to reggae seamlessly. Aubele’s vocal -- strangely reminiscent of the The's Matt Johnson -- becomes a bridge in the tune’s rhythmic palette, and is contrasted with Clavier’s, echoing half -beat-behind one, to seemingly stretch time. The effect is steamy and erotic. The guitar and overamped bass twin perfectly, with sonic washes fluttering through the mix. Clavier sings duet on the shimmering lament “Lágrimas Viejas,” and lead on the trip-hop tango “Ojalá.” “Efemera” walks a club jazz-meets-fado line with Karina Zeviani singing lead. It’s dark swirling synths and rhythms pulse and phase. Other standouts include the midtempo, skittering beats and bass-blasted “13,” with Aubele’s guitar claiming as much authority as his voice, and the tribal, digital dub-tango "El Meiedo.” Ultimately, Berlin 13 is the record Aubele’s been trying to make since he started; it fulfills the promise of his earlier recordings while expanding his restless musical vision to become a new high-water mark.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek