Latinas in Alternative: A Review of The Marias Superclean, Vol. 2 EP

By Nadiyah Fisher

A psychedelic soul. The Marías; a Los Angeles Band with Puerto Rican lead singer and namesake, María Zandoya, her partner and drummer, Josh Conway, Edward James, and Jesse Perlman. In an interview with Interview Magazine, Zandoya recalls her beginnings. She is from a small town outside of Atlanta, Georgia where “everybody is somebody” and the houses were haunted (Still Woozy, 2021). After moving to Los Angeles, Zandoya sang at various open mics before she was spotted by her drummer and partner, Conway. James and Perlman were childhood friends of Conway and quickly formed a band with Zandoya. Zandoya’s Latin roots are intertwined with her musical identity. Some of her songs are in Spanish and she allows her Latin roots to flow freely throughout her music (Still Woozy, 2021).  

The Marías may be considered psychedelic soul, but also alternative R&B. Alternative R&B is a new genre established by frontrunners like The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, and PARTYNEXTDOOR. While some artists like FKA Twigs see the subgenre of alternative R&B as a “condescending genre” due to brown and blackness being associated with R&B and Hip-Hop music, I see R&B as boundless (Cliff, 2014). Due to the boundless nature of R&B, alternative R&B is just a sub-genre of rhythm and blues like alternative rock is a sub-genre of rock. While I agree with Twigs’ frustration around the label and reasons surrounding it, I cannot help but ignore that the word alternative is put on music outside of the mainstream and changes the culture around music (Jam Addict, n.d). Alternative music is all about pushing boundaries and equating the Black and brown dominated genre of R&B as sexual is just plain racism. Alternative R&B creates a space for creators outside of mainstream R&B and puts a genre on every song that I love. This is important for Latin artists like María Zandoya and encourages new sounds from soulful backgrounds. Zandoya recalls her dad teaching her Latin chords and uses this to write songs (Still Woozy, 2021). This beauty in her background is apparent in the band’s EP; Superclean Volume 2. 

The 22-minute EP automatically transports you and covers you with a nostalgic hug. The first song, “Ruthless,” is a dreamy and psychedelic ballad throughout the EP. The beat is recurring and simple, a coffee shop vibe. Zandoya’s heavenly voice-over of Conway, Perlman, and James’ beats is captivating. The trumpet toward the end of the song makes the hug tighter and Zandoya’s humble beginnings help her write the ultimate feel-good song with an oxymoronic name. This song is about an older lover or friend and creates a story like writing your crush’s name 100 times in middle school. The character in the story acknowledges their faults and is careful—their self-proclaimed darkness shines when they are in love. Zandoya sings about being their “lullaby” and doesn’t want to be the only one “talking in her sleep.” Her argument is convincing and vulnerable—-a recurring theme in R&B, but The Marias’ execution is alluring and beautifully dark; not typically expressed in mainstream music. 

Ruthless’ successor, Cariño,” is a four-minute love song and a direct reflection of Zandoya’s roots. Cariño,” or darling, helps Zandoya bring Spanish and a Beachboys guitar to R&B—thus alternative. The guitars were slow as Zandoya sings. Her voice comes off as childlike and as the “lullaby” she wanted to be for her lover. 

 

“Eres una obra de arte 

Con solo mirarte 

Algo que da paz 

 

Cariño eres un amor 

Cariño pintas en color  

Quiero tanto devorarte 

Esta vez besarte 

Si es que soy capaz  

 

Cariño eres un amor 

Cariño pintas en color” 

 

She affirms her lover of their individuality as if she is studying them. Eres una obra de arte. They are a work of art. Something to glamour at and notice. She loses herself in their appeal. Her Cariño fills in the gaps of life and a human version of love. Her infatuation is bold and daring.  

ABQ is the third song, and the unnamed acronym switches the gear of the EP. ABQ is the song version of a bridge. Zandoya returns to introspection. She is analyzing the life of her lover but through a different lens—-she is not the only one who is ruthless. The Marías’ create an environment for imperfect connections. The insecurities of her lover’s life are exposed.  

 

“There goes my life,  

On the open road 

Can I be alone? 

I can understand you” 

 

Their life or flaws aren’t scaring Zandoya. She understands. This closeness and unmasking push the bounds of mainstream R&B and helps the listener to create their own interpretations. 

 

“Oh, can I get the window down 

It’s gettin warm 

Oh, can you keep your voices down 

I’m tryna push record 

There goes my life 

On the open road 

Are going home 

With everyone beside you 

There goes my mind 

How can you be sure 

Are we going nowhere 

With everyone beside you 

I can understand you; I can understand you” 

 

Her lover is getting nervous, they have never unmasked themselves in this way before; they believe that everyone knows, and their claustrophobic tendencies keep them trapped in this never-ending circle of unwarranted self-depreciation—Zandoya still understands though. 

Loverboy,” the shortest song and probably interlude of the EP, has Zandoya question her lover. 

 

“You put me in line with all the rest, I know 

I know, I know, I know, I know, I know (x2) 

Sunshine I might be long 

If I decide you’re wrong 

Can’t bear a word from you, loverboy 

When you decided to love her, boy 

You put me in line with all the rest, I know 

I know, I know, I know, I know, I know (x2)” 

 

Did she become their lullaby? Was she the only one singing at night? Is she like everyone else? Her lover’s actions are surprising and breathtaking. How can her Cariño love someone else? Loverboy may be a nice way of labeling a cheater or player. The quaint and short nature of the song explains the rollercoaster of love in over a minute. Maybe the coaster goes up next song? 

Back to the honeymoon phase–well not too fast. Zandoya is Over the Moon. Zandoya’s fantasies of perfect love are countered with her knowledge of her partner. Is she falling for their lies? Is her love rooted in her imagination? Play with someone who doesn’t love you as much as Zandoya does. Don’t give her the facade of love. Another popular theme in R&B is deceit. The Marías explore this theme from a different angle and take the listener through a ride down memory lane. He loves me; he loves me not. Don’t let me go. The hug is getting loose. 

 

“You call me up at night, imaginary lines 

Are you gonna go back to sleep 

I know you better 

Than you know yourself 

I’m only sayin, play your hand with someone else 

Don’t tell me how to 

Be your baby, there’s nothing better I’d rather do 

I’m lost completely, I might as well be over the moon 

I might as well be over the moon 

Don’t let me go, don’t let me go” 

 

In the final song of the EP, she is Clueless. The song is sterner—she’s tired of being a pushover and frankly, she can’t take this sh no more baby. Zandoya is joined with a deeper voice—Josh Conway, her partner. Unlike Zandoya, he lets go easily but doesn’t know what to do from there. He has nothing else to give but Zandoya wants more. Their words to each other are not truthful and the rift in their relationship is apparent. The rollercoaster comes down as we wrap up the EP. Where does it go from here? 

 

“The second I slip away 

I let it go and feel alright 

Another level over night 

Can’t fight this feeling 

Dust off my side 

Another reason to try 

You got me thinkin I’m clueless 

Can’t be the only 

Words that you told me 

Makin me feel like I’m clueless” 

 

As the EP wraps up, as a listener, I feel Clueless too. Where does the story go from here? They did not kiss and make up? The story is like a cliffhanger and the hug is gone. The ugliness of love is exposed but ever so suddenly. The Marías push the bounds of the traditional love story and their dreamy appeal is to blame. The unknown creates a sense of solemnness that I enjoy. This is what makes alternative R&B beautiful and boundless.  

 


References

Cliff, A. (2014). FKA Twigs Is Right, “Alternative R&B” Must Die. The Fader. https://www.thefader.com/2014/09/12/popping-off-fka-twigs-beyonce-alt-r-and-b

Jam Addict. (n.d). What is the Meaning of Alternative Music? Jam Addict. https://jamaddict.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-alternative-music/

Still Woozy. (2017). How an Acid Trip Gave Birth to The Marías’ Latest Album, CINEMA. Interview Magazine. https://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/how-an-acid-trip-gave-birth-to-the-marias-latest-album-cinema

The Marias. Lyrics. https://www.themarias.us/lyrics 

 

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