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By David Greenberger

Mexican Institute of Sound

Méjico Máxico (Nacional)




The Pinker Tones

The Million Colour Revolution (Nacional)

The Los Angeles-based Nacional label originally was devoted to the many possibilities of Latino music. While it continues to primarily celebrate sounds from south of the border, it also is finding sympathetic enterprises from across the ocean.

The Pinker Tones, a duo based in Barcelona, open their second album by rolling out the red carpet with a veritable fanfare, inviting everyone to enter their tent at the circus. Mister Furia and Professor Manso offer up a kaleidoscopic celebration replete with bossa nova, lounge music, hipster swing, hiphop, and more. All of it serves to make one tumbling party from beginning to end. It spills forth with fuzz guitar riffs, turntables scratching, samples, chanted vocal choruses, wailing trumpets, crowd sounds and nonstop beats. The furious pace of the fun is amped up by the constantly modulated settings, as one passage pops out of another like a psychedelic toy set. “Beyond Nostalgia” offers a Jobim-like arrangement, but is aptly titled, as they leapfrog the Brazilian from the ’60s squarely into the 21st century. Ever wondered how Augie Meyers and Joe Zawinul would get on if they met? “L’Heros” opens with a garage-band Farfisa riff, only to give way to verses built upon a wah-wah-pedaled electric piano.

The Mexican Institute of Sounds, also known as simply MIS, is the one-man operation of Camilo Lara. Galloping across the whole of the 20th century, the musical references embrace Latin big bands, 1920s pop, electronica, dub, cha chas, cumbias and much, much more. The 15 tracks on Méjico Máxico follow one another like a panoramic ride through an impressionistic portrait of Mexico City, full of bustle, hustle, lust, love, dance and pizzazz. This is fearlessly modern music, drawing freely from vibrant trends and resonant traditions. There are shades of Esquivel, with the utilization of looped vocals, exotic percussion and mixes that sound like a DeChirico painting come to life, built upon extreme lines of perspective (most notably on “Corasound” and “No Hay Masa Ya”). There’s also a sympathetic alignment with such contemporaries as Cafe Tacuba, as evidenced by the funky, guitar-driven “Hey Tia!” Every 45 minutes of music should aim to be this full of life.

All hail smart hipsters with unerring good taste and an unquenchable thirst for experimentation!

Alejandro Escovedo

The Boxing Mirror (Backporch Records)

The latest release from alt- country icon Alejandro Escovedo finds him recovered and somewhat chastened after battles with both Hepatitis C and the rock & roll lifestyle. Producer John Cale casts a mostly welcome avant-garde pall over a collection of songs that serve as a summation of Escovedo’s rock/chamber music aesthetic (Escovedo credits the master’s Paris 1919 as an essential touchstone for his own work).

The disc opens with a menacing triptych that culminates in “Notes on Air,” featuring the provocative lyrics “I had to bury my daughter today/And I can’t think about it too much” (one of three sets of lyrics penned by Escovedo’s wife, poet Kim Christoff). Escovedo intones passionately about a “buck from the sky/Trampling a wandering doe” while former True Believer bandmate Jon Dee Graham splatters the track with frenetic guitar solos that are almost worth the price of admission.

After the pretty much flawless beginning, the rest of the disc suffers a bit from a sameness that Cale tries to rectify by quirking up the arrangements. While the “Raspberry Beret”-like version of “Take Your Place” works better than the original (hidden as an unlisted bonus track), the ’80s-vintage keyboard sounds on this and other tracks unleash painful memories of Huey Lewis and the News. Escovedo’s two tributes to his parents, “Evita’s Lullaby” and the title track, are tender and somewhat touching, but their melodic resemblance to one another (as well as to the Who’s “The Song Is Over”) gets annoying upon repeated listenings.

On the bright side, “Sacramento & Polk,” one of the most kickass songs I’ve heard all year, is a fierce reminder that Escovedo was a punk rocker long before he was No Depression’s Artist of the Nineties. “Looking for Love” and “The Ladder” are mature and clear-eyed love songs that any songwriter would be proud to call their own. While The Boxing Mirror has its share of highs, a few missteps keep it from being the great Escovedo album we can thankfully still look forward to hearing someday.

—Mike Hotter

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