The late Alan Vega, singer for the duo Suicide, was fond of using the expression “minimal is maximal” to describe their music. That slogan is quoted approvingly by the singer and multi-instrumentalist David A. Arraya, founder of Lust Era, a moody group born in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Caimito neighborhood and presently based in the U.S. Like Suicide, Lust Era are also a duo heavy on electronics, extremes, and what Arraya calls a “raw, wiry, and dark romanticism.” They’ve even covered Suicide’s “Ghost Rider.”
Five years into their career, Lust Era—Arraya and guitarist Luis Sepúlveda—have assembled a seemingly daunting discography, made up of over 30 singles, EPs, albums, and compilations. And while their music fits generally into the “post-punk/goth” vein, that shorthand undersells the range of what Lust Era have accomplished. Singing in both Spanish and English, Arraya has vocal charisma to burn, and he and Sepúlveda prove equally adept at frenetic guitar-driven rave-ups and slow-burn mood pieces.
Over a series of email exchanges, Arraya outlines the group’s origins, as part of his travels between Puerto Rico and New York City over the past 30 years. “Hip-Hop, freestyle, new wave, electro, punk, rock, salsa, and whatever pop music was playing on the radio at that point were always on rotation,” he says of his development as a listener. “[In 2014] I had been recording more noise, electronic, and experimental stuff, and wanted to try to take a shot at recording more song-structured music. At that time I used to be a college professor and Luis was one of my students. I knew he was a guitar player, we got along, shared some common interests, and eventually I asked him if he’d be interested in joining me.”
Arraya credits the group’s prolific output to their singular compositional mindset: they treat songs “like Polaroids,” as opposed to errant sound collages. “We love the immediacy of finishing a song, putting it on online and seeing it get a life of its own.” If their tracks are photos, then their albums literal audiobooks—or, as he likes to put it, “novels with missing pages, in all the right places.” The duo have worked with other musicians along the way, and have already toured the U.S. and South America, and are hoping to travel to Europe and beyond in the near future. “Based on the shows we get booked to play and the various places we’ve traveled,” Arraya says wryly, “our audience is the sexiest.”
Below, Arraya selects seven representative tracks of his and Sepúlveda’s work at their best, and provides more info about their origins.
From their 2015 album The Lost Art of Murder, “Baila Conmigo” is a two-minute summary of Lust Era at its most wired: punchy beats give way to a lead bassline that’s at once driving and mournful, Sepúlveda’s nervous-sounding guitar shadings and Arraya’s treated vocals all working in sync. “This song came about because of a message my girlfriend sent me on the phone,” Arraya says. “We were chatting and she said, ‘¡David, baila conmigo!’ and it kind of stuck with me. It sounded like a really good song title and subject matter, so much with so little. Later that night, I recorded and wrote the lyrics of that song.”
“Tyrant,” another Lost Art of Murder cut, feels calmer by comparison, but the initial ripple of electronics are just the preamble to an explosive charge of a song, rivalling prime Sisters of Mercy in the way it blends Sepúlveda’s crackling guitar parts and relentless rhythms with Arraya’s anguished singing. “At that period I was listening to a lot of death rock (45 Grave, Christian Death) and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s first albums,” Arraya says. “It was my attempt to pay homage those bands which I love so much. Elvis Presley was also a huge inspiration around that time.”
Taken from 2016’s Pray You’ll Never Know, “Largas Horas” maintains Lust Era’s winning combination of fast-paced beats and bass. With this track, though, Sepúlveda aims for more of a lovely Robert Smith-style mournful guitar chime: Arraya’s vocals, in particular, rank among his calmest and most entrancing. “‘Largas Horas’ is the first song that Luis and I wrote together after he joined the band full-time,” Arraya says. “We had recorded some things a few years prior, but this one marks that new chapter. It feels like every time we play it live, it reveals new nuances.”
A highlight off the duo’s third album—the appropriately titled Trés, released in 2017—“Noche Fenomenal” is another of the group’s get-to-the-point numbers, clocking in just over two minutes and boasting a peppy, poppy rhythm, cyclical keyboard melody and Sepúlveda’s spiralling guitars. “It’s about a night of debauchery in San Juan,” says Arraya. “It’s sort of a religious mantra for the maladjusted. A safety blanket for the street-walking cheetahs.”
Another brief Trés track, “Cuerpo y Veneno” further explores Lust Era’s shadowy and beautiful side, with its blend of slippery bass and guitars and coolly restrained singing punctuated by a slightly wailing backing vocal, which adds to the song’s dark atmosphere. “This is another of the very first songs Luis and I recorded together,” says Arraya. “We were listening to a lot of early Ministry around this time, even if it doesn’t show. I chose to include it in the list because of its melodic content and harmonic wit.”
Released earlier this year on the Ausencia EP, “Mi Adorado Tormento” starts with a distant keyboard fanfare before shifting into one of the duo’s best black-clad-romance numbers, as the song title, “My Adored Torment,” clearly signals. Arraya’s vocal retains a bit of reverb, and Sepúlveda’s guitar is a note-perfect example of melancholy. “I overheard someone talking on the phone on the street and they said, ‘Estoy aquí con mi adorado tormento’ and it immediately caught my attention,” Arraya says. “It started with the song title as a frame, and everything just snowballed. Sometimes songs just fall in your lap. For me, words precede meaning most of the time.”
Concluding with another cut from Ausencia, “Gotas de Vidrio” is one of the duo’s all-time best brawlers, slamming into full-speed and feedback from the get-go. Sepúlveda maintains a growling guitar rage, and Arraya’s vocal is at once commanding and yearning. It is a commanding performance. “This is one of the most recent songs we have recorded since moving to the States,” Arraya says. “We like throwing curveballs and trying not to repeat ourselves. This one is a nod to our ‘Tyrant’ days, and were we come from. It will be remixed by our friend Ricardo Tobar from Chile, which is something we are really looking forward to.”