Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Calle 13

  • Residente o Visitante [Norte, 2007] A-
  • Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo [Norte, 2008] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Residente o Visitante [Norte, 2007]
Start here, partly to benefit from the online discussion this album has inspired over two years--cf. allthelyrics.com's takeout on the Rabelaisian "Uiyi Guaye"--but mostly to delve into sardonic sonics that hint at what Tom Zé might have gone for if he'd come up on OutKast and Eminem instead of the Beatles and the Stones. From mock-operatic intro to mock-rock finale, the music is disruptive fun throughout. Latin-flavored yet light on salsa clavé and reggaeton dembow, it sharpens the lyrics so that sometimes a single word can make you nod or smile while its context remains a mystery. A-

Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo [Norte, 2008]
You don't have to speak Spanish to conclude that this arty, political San Juan rap duo deserve their rocketing reputation--I sure can't, though when I squint at the booklet my puny recognition vocabulary helps. But you do have to immerse and concentrate--and accept that you'll miss most of what's going on even then. They're reggaeton only by association, a lot further from Daddy Yankee's hey-mami dancehall than the Roots were from Dr. Dre's jeep-pimping funk. By all accounts and the little I can work out, their lyrics are playfully associative and outrageously filthy. But for gringos, their humor resides almost entirely in Visitante's out-there arrangements and Residente's overt vocal comedy, as on the Balkanized "Fiesta de Locos." If some promotional visionary were to provide trots, that might change. But as it is, big guests Café Tacuba and Ruben Blades are too mainstream to launch Calle's 2008 model into the surrealist stratosphere. B+