The Freelance Mentalists.
Friday, March 05, 2004
Plagiarizing from your own blog is OK here, right? And talking about the top 10 Latin alternative albums of 2003 is fine even if we're three months into 2004, que no? Following then, is what I wrote earlier in the year with a bit of explanation and links to my own articles on them--hey, I must shamelessly self-promote at all times.

Caveat lector: I'm limiting meself to Latin alternative in this because this is the only music style I review--well, that and Long Beach alt-country and Cambodian psychedelic rock. Most music of today, both in English and Spanish, is vile. "Rock is back" merely confirms my fears that people are worthless. Outkast and Radiohead are great; Sleepy Jackson is a fop who wishes Oscar Wilde could savage him (excuse the derogatory comment!). Now without further ado...

1. El Gran Silencio, Super Riddim Internacional, Vol. 1

This album shows the power of Latin alternative and why, when done best, can be the world's most brilliant genre. Whereas most Latin alternative bands--et tu, Cafe Tacuba?--have forsaken their heritage for the easy sounds of America, El Gran Silencio is stubbornly rooted in the dirtiest music forms the Western Hemisphere offers--cumbia/vallenato/ragamuffin with inane raps and bravura that comes only by being real-life chuntaros. Most overlooked song of the year: "Venadito Callejero", the most danceable political cry since the Internacionale. The Re of the new millennium.

The review:

"As if to fulfill these criticisms, El Gran Silencio have gone brilliantly native for this first chapter of a planned two-part effort (número dos comes out in the fall). Using a raga/rap/ranchera scaffold as a base, the quintet proceeds to unleash almost every accordion-based riff known to Gabbanelli—vallenato, conjunto norteño, cumbia and squeezebox sounds from the Colombian plains Carlos Vives doesn’t even know exist—to cheesily complement the overwrought love songs, booties-in-the-air brags and smash-society lyrics that make the band as exhilarating an act as rock en español has ever produced."

2. Vicentico, Vicentico

This is also the hardest-to-find album of the year, and is finally, officially showing up in non-import bins. The album actually came out in 2002, only in Spain. My review on it comes out next week--read it. In the meanwhile, read my blurb on his appearance in Los Angeles:

"Cigarette smoke belched from his mouth, a scraggly beard adorned his face, and his mane appeared as if it had never known the discipline of a comb. But Vicentico allayed any reservations once his crooning commenced. Backed by a nine-member orchestra that out-Cadillac’d the original Cadillacs for musicianship, he opened with “Se Despierta la Ciudad,” a lividly dark number tumbling with Afro-Argentine rhythms that detailed the unrest of his native land. Vicentico’s trademark raspy prayer carried his outstanding solo material, which gravitates away from his former band’s frenzy toward a stately amalgamation of lovely bossa nova, thunderous batucada and a general lounge sensibility."

3. Cabas, Contacto

Another album I've yet to review, only because it came out in the last parts of December. And thus, I withhold any comments. All I can say is that my words on him from Nov. 2002 now seem ridiculous:

"But the drums! Cabas’ backup band employed three different percussionists—a regular drummer, a congero and someone going Tito Puente on the timbales—that might have saved the concert. This pounding trio, though, couldn’t mask the Colombian clown’s nonexistent stage presence, and his stage-strutting and happy-clapping looked ridiculous."
My take, 2004: Cabas is a man you should listen to fast.

4. Bersuit Vergarabat, De la Cabeza...

Wrote about them earlier this week, even excerpted them. Here's a different excerpt:

"Adoring but angry fans hum each chord, sing all the lyrics, and cheer every time Cordera dedicates a song to the hijo de puta ex-President Carlos Menem or urges them to remember the valiant mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. De la Cabeza includes only one new track (the rest are culled from the badass albums Liberntinaje and Hijos del Culo), but it’s the powerful ballad "El Pacto," an inspiring love song that also doubles as commentary on the psychological and musical resiliency of the Argentine nation in the face of endless chaos."

I love how the Rag allows me to ridicule Latin American leaders with the worst insults imaginable.

5. Yerba Buena, President Alien

Afro-Nuyorican funk at its sweatiest. Voted by the Rag's main music editor as having the best concert in OC of 2003, a point I don't dispute. Most bittersweet song of the year in "Wassamatter Baby?", a song I'm unfortunately relating to nowadays. Also, best damn publicity shot of the year--Panavision is back! Now the review:

"Combining Caribbean cadences with hip-hop reflections and African beats that would’ve made Fela Kuti proud, President Alien is a relentless recording that evolves frenetically as each song progresses. Sardonic flutes hump brave mambo horns that ride never-stopping percussions pounding to an orgasmic conclusion on virtually every track—and then it starts again. The results are dirty and sweaty, glamorous tropical traditions gritted for New York’s urban wonderland."

6. Control Machete, Uno, Dos: Bandera

Rap for me died with Tupac--and even then, rap for me was over after the original N.W.A. dissolved--but this group showed me that bragadoccio in rap isn't necessarily cliched, especially when you're rapping about issues that matter. This is another Latin alternative group that doesn't disavow their roots, even though in Control Machete's case, it's excusably easy to.

"Previous obsessions of the Monterrey, Mexico, Latin rap avatars persist—the dueling rapid-fire growls of Toy Hernández and Pato Chapa, smoggy beats unafraid of using traditional Latin American instruments like marimbas, congas and tubas to ominous effect, and songs unapologetic in attacking what ails Mexican society. But now there are fiesta-worthy jams not bogged down by political gravitas—just raise your hands along the Bootsy-funky party-starter "Bien, Bien" and its smirking mariachi horns fading in and out of spleen-disintegrating drum beats."

7. Natalia Lafourcade, Natalia Lafourcade

The first two songs on this album are terrible, and these were the only two songs of hers I knew for a good couple of months. Then I actually bothered to spin the disc, and she irrecovably changed my opinion of her--about the best pop you'll ever encounter. I now kick myself for having missed out on her show at the El Rey. Another one to watch out for.

"But Lafourcade is no fabricated foreign ingénue angling to cash in on America’s obsession with sultry untalented teens—this chick can belt. After two opening pieces of pop putridity, Lafourcade moves on to reveal soothing little wonders of dance pulses and Brazilian strums—the album you should’ve played during the summer, but instead will now spin to melt the coming overcast gloom."

8. Plastilina Mosh, Hola Chicuelos

Owners of the most hilarious musical video of 2003 also, for "Peligroso Pop." Absolute morons--and I mean it in the most loving of sense. Also their show at the Conga Room was the last time I ever went out with Argentina--after that, I pulled out my surface-to-air missile and promptly pointed it to the bridge. Idiot.

"Any semblance of lyrics consist of excerpts stolen from the Amoeba Records bargain bin—chanting prepubescent girls, apoplectic radio announcers, even an entire final-descent speech by an airplane pilot on "Houston"—and what few words Rosso and Jonáz mutter are languid declarations, such as "Let’s give a rest to your underwear" on the romantic-in-a-porno-kind-of-way "Magic Fever."

9. Molotov, Dance and Dense Denso

Another great rap album. A bit overrated, in my opinion. But...can't deny the power of "Frijolero", the shrapnel we needed to boom out that no other American band dared think. Wusses.

"The bizarre "I'm the One" — imagine a Huggy Boy dedication transported to D.F.'s colonias — counters its message of Sartrean individualism with a too-lush female background singer; urban unrest has never sounded so saccharine. On "No Me Da Mi Navidad (Punketón)," the wry electronic plea that the government fund punk bands morphs into a condemnation of a country that abandons dissident children to their own wits. "Tell me, what are you going to do with street kids?" Fuentes asks the Mexican nation. "Let them die," replies his country's discombobulated voice."

10. El Otro Yo, Colmena

The most unknown great act out there. All cuties, but possessors of a spirit that could only be forged in a country as fucked up as Argentina. Look at the picture in my review: doesn't the girl look like a drugged-up Olsen gal?

"A bit more accessible than their 2000 electro-nuts must-own Abrecaminos, Colmena thankfully still finds the quartet—drummer Raimundo Fajardo, keyboardist Ezequiel Araujo, and dueling siblings Humberto and María Aldana on guitar and bass, respectively—combining paper-shredder six-string chops, drum pounds that mimic the pots banged by protestors on Argentina’s chaotic streets (which they excerpt on "Calles"), and haphazard synthesizer swoons into rock at its face-punching best."
Notably missing from this list--Julieta Venegas (the most disappointing release by any artist in years--it wasn't bad, but girl needs to be hearbroken in order for her to reach her usual strata), Gustavo Cerati (good album, but not too memorable), Quetzal (they would be No. 11), Jarabe de Palo (me the idiot never actually bought the CD in order to review it--another remnant of Argentina. How I miss her easy smile...but not the insult of the ages), Jumbo (ha!) and Cafe Tacuba (great album, but when you match Cuatro Caminos up with their previous efforts, it's terrible)!

Any questions. Email me. Not a bad list considering I wrote it off the top of my head and interrupted by a viewing of the Simpsons, eh?
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