first expedition south of the border in search of Mexican music. Now that we’ve shaken off the mezcal hangover, it’s time to return to Mexico lindo y querido to have a look-see at two smart alt-rock bands that defy the multiple Mexican stereotypes I (impressively, no?) have managed to disseminate in this very brief introduction.Amigos, it’s been two months since our
Café Tacuba have been around since 1989, and their self-titled debut came out in 1992. It included “Pinche Juan”:
This is a handy introduction to the band, as it shows off their hyperactive musical style and sense of irreverence. “Pinche” is a term in Mexican Spanish which means, more or less, “fucking” (as an adjective, not a gerund-participle), or “goddamn,” but it is much more fun to use than either of its English equivalents. Try it sometime! For instance, when your computer crashes: “Pinche hard drive!” When your cat pees on the rug: “Pinch gato!” Anyway, pinche is a fun word and “Pinche Juan” is a fun song, if a bit too full-throttle for my delicate sensibilities.
“La ingrata”–off their second album, Re–retains the aggressive vibe, but not without a knowing smirk and considerable intelligence:
Lead singer Rubén Albarrán’s bright red hair and confrontational gestures may suggest run-of-the-mill alt-rock angry dude, but the jacked up polka beat in the background belies this first impression and suggests an inspired reinterpretation of the conjunto norteño genre. And while Albarrán’s snarling vocals certainly give the band a distinctive–some might say grating?–edge, he also knows how to bring it down a notch, as in this cover of Leo Dan’s “Cómo te extraño mi amor”:
And “Mediodía,” from 2003′s Grammy-winning Cuatro Caminos:
And the ’60s-tinged “Quiero ver.” from 2007′s Sino:
And, going back to their high-energy snarly sound, “Eo” from Cuatro Caminos is bouncy and endearing:
What makes Café Tacuba so interesting–aside from their crafty musicianship–is that they incorporate uniquely Mexican sounds and lyrics into the broader alt-rock template. Albarrán’s nasaly approach may not be for everyone, but any band with a song called “Pinche Juan” is OK in my book.
As for the newer wave of Mexican alt-rockers, Austin TV is the kind of band that inspires use of the “post-” prefix in descriptions. They’re instrumental, fairly earnest, and into costumes. And really, they’re not bad.
“Marduk” from their latest album, Fontana Bella, sums them up pretty well:
Gloomy and ominous, then loud and thrashy, but not without the kind of smart nuances which are crucial to staying afloat inprecarious genre; get too noodly and self-indulgent and you risk losing your audience. Luckily Austin TV, though still obviously a young band with rough edges, seems to know how to walk that line just right, and their music is a real find for those with the temperament for instrumental post-rock.
“Shiva” from Fonta Bella:
I was so-so on this song until the handclaps came in. Touché!
“Roy Rogers,” from their debut La última noche del mundo:
While I think Austin TV certainly has a lot up its sleeve, they seem a bit immature at this point. They should be looking over their shoulders at Ponytail to see what exactly they’re up against in the rookie post-rock instrumental band league. Then again, did Ponytail ever inventively cover “Tonight, Tonight” while wearing sinister bunny masks?
Not that I know of.