Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Also a Fermented Beverage Made From Corn

The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cubmias from Peru
During the late 1960s, Peruvian cumbia bands -- primarily working -- class musicians who embraced the sound (and dance) considered a “lower” art form by the upper classes -- began incorporating modern instruments and Northern rock and pop elements into their traditional music.

Lashing electric guitars, electronic keyboards (Farfisa organ, Moog synthesizers) onto the 4/4 cumbia meter resulted in the mutation chicha. The style even bends the cumbia, already borrowed from Colombia, deeper into indigenous, non-Western territory by using Andean pentatonic scales in the melodies.

Enough of that -- let’s generalize.

Chicha rhythms feel lopsided and uneven, like the downbeat is rolling from left to right across the hips. There’s no danger of these songs falling apart, but the percussive contents shift and roll like a loosely packed bag. The simple bass patterns box in the beats -- take it away and the songs would tumble out of control.

Atop this rides a swirl of guitars and keyboards. The rhythm guitars often get the wah-wah treatment, but lead guitars are usually cleanly amped, and picked in a style so that, even when things get really surf sounding (as with Los Hijos del Sol’s “Cariñito”) the Latin sound remains.

Los Diablos Rojos have an almost Cuban funk sound, while Los Destellos’ r&b/garage-rock style works in their favor by allowing bandleader/guitarist Enrique Delgado a chance to show off his six-string power. (His clever reworking of Beethoveen’s “Für Elise” -- here titled “Para Elisa” -- is a marvel.)

For all the talk about the addition of electronic keyboards, Juaneco y Su Combo’s leader Juan Wong Paredes makes best use of the tools. His leads in “Ya se ha muerto mi Abuelo” alone could justify the use of the term “psychedelic” in this collection’s subtitle.

As an aside, Paredes’ band played up the native aspect by wearing traditional Shipibo tribal clothing. (Fans of surf and garage bands please take a moment to note how many of the acts you admire perform in thematic costumes.)

Juaneco y Su Combo is also responsible for the one overtly salacious number on Roots of Chicha, “Vacilando con Ayauesca.” The Typing Monkey's grasp of Spanish was gleaned entirely from Sesame Street, so we’re not sure exactly what that woman is moaning about, but we think the whole thing is a dirty joke about the babysitter. Do with that speculation what you will.

Reference materials: If you like the Nuggets series or own more than one surf-rock record, take a chance with The Roots of Chicha.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We'll be right back after these messages.

The Typing Monkey very much likes the way this video (Leyode's "Irene") could easily have been slotted in-between Muppet segments on Sesame Street without raising suspicions. A sweetly innocent bit of eye candy that tips its hat to Terry Gilliam's Monty Python 'toons:

Friday, February 1, 2008

Relax Baby Be Cool

(Kill Rock Stars)
At what would normally be the start of side two of Stereo Total’s 7th LP, the duo delivers a socko double-shot of disco. "Merh Licht" hits the early 1980s style in which house and new wave were slapping a new coat of paint on disco and reselling it to the same audience. The track rests almost entirely on a constant hi-hat, kick drum and spare synthesizers.

Meanwhile "Ta Voix au Telephone" sounds like a well-equipped ABBA cover band not at all trying to disguise the fact that they're lifting from Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" and the blatant pornography of The Andrea True Connection's "More More More."

Find any of that distasteful? Then you should probably stop reading. Otherwise Paris-Berlin finds the painfully self-aware co-ed band finding a keen balance between the smooth electronics of Musique Automatique (2001) and their return noisy pop with Do the Bambi (2005).

At 14 songs, the record isn’t without lows -- particularly the been-there, done-thatness of “Patty Hearst” and the too quiet (and guest-heavy) “Baby Revolution.” But the high points provide enough fun that forgiveness comes quick.

“Komplex mit dem Sex” has Francoise Cactus singing hilarious German lyrics about gender confusion. There’s a silly Shonen Knife sounding number (“Plastic”) and enough icy keyboards and stiff guitar/drum rhythms to burst art student pretensions by playing the game better than any one else.

Appropriately, another stellar moment is when they cover Serge Gainsbourg’s “Relax Baby Be Cool.” Plastic Bertrand swiped this riff and fluffed it up a bit for “Ca Plane Pour Moi” but clearly it works best as a monotone command fit for a bank-heist getaway, or maybe a bad afternoon at the hash pipe.

Reference materials: Stereo Total will appeal to fans of Komeda the ye-ye sound of 1960s Paris.