The rise and demise of Elso Tumbay

After fourteen years as a leading member of the nuevo rock chileno scene, Elso Tumbay have called it a day. Formed in Santiago in 1996 and named after a mythical Hindu poet, the band became known for its fusion of Chilean-style folk music jammed with alternative rock.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Elso Tumbay

To mark their passing, they've released Antologías, a collection of three albums that span their career and provide an insight into the development of the group's sound. Ever-present are the soaring violin melodies that arc over fuzzy guitars and the impassioned singing of female vocalist Carola Sotomayor.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Elso Tumbay

The first of their albums, Elso Tumbay, released in 1997, is recognisable as a product of its time in that it draws inspiration from the Britpop scene that was in its ascendency in the mid-nineties, as well as from US bands such as Pearl Jam and REM.

Laced with Chilean folk influences and veering off to the experimental at times, the album is a radio-friendly collection of energetic and upbeat tunes. Its energy is channeled through Sotomayor's powerful vocals and fiddle-playing that rarely lets up, particularly on tracks such as El Dominio and Aire, two of Elso Tumbay's most popular songs. The melancholy Sol y La Luna and the latin-infused Jadahuep provide contrasts with the overall joviality of the record, also reflecting the ancestry of Chilean rock.

Nino Planta, released in 2004, sees a band that has grown into its sound. The pulsating stadium-rock quality of songs such as Beso Invisible and Olvidandote showcase the confidence that had enveloped the group by that point. While there is less variation on Nino Planta than on Elso Tumbay, and while the rest of the song-writing doesn't compare to their earlier work, it nonetheless offers spirited pop-punk. On disc, it may fail to animate you even though you suspect it would be a different story live.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Elso Tumbay

The final disc is Arbolica, from 2008, which kicks off with the aptly-titled Veo Sol, a relentlessly cheerful burst of happiness with a soaring violin riff. Things come back down to earth with La Gota, before the album's highlight, Esta Perdido, sounding like a latin Jane's Addiction, even down to Sotomayor's screeching singing. The rest of the album, with the exception of the frenetic Derramada, fails to reach the same heights, as a lack of invention becomes apparent at times. The group struggles to maintain the vibrancy of rock's 1990s heyday.

And it is herein which lies Elso Tumbay's main difficulty. While over their career they may have established a clearly-defined sound, it is a sound that takes few risks. There are next to no moments that aggravate or irritate, but equally there are few that truly excite or command attention. You cannot question their verve or spirit, or their ability to write catchy rock songs, but the general painting-by-numbers style of a good chunk of their material shows a band that may be missed but is unlikely to be mourned.

Elso Tumbay
Antologías is released by Alerce
Click here to purchase Antologías

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