Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Latin Playboys

  • Latin Playboys [Slash/Warner Bros., 1994] A+
  • Dose [Atlantic, 1999] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Latin Playboys [Slash/Warner Bros., 1994]
On Kiko, new producer Mitchell Froom, aided materially by wizard engineer and aural archivist Tchad Blake, transmuted Los Lobos's folkier textures into a kind of amniotic sound-surf, sustaining their rock noises and rhythms in swells of offhand accordion, rippling guitar arpeggio, whiskey-breathed brass, and articulated percussion. Here David Hidalgo and Louis Pérez rework Kiko outtakes to undercut the band's Springsteenian quest for meaning. Whenever the lyrical impressions lapse toward the stolid or sodden, they're lifted by the spare, bent music: echoes and silences, filtered voices and ancient klaxons, Indian film sounds and scratchy samples of street bebop, jagged Beefheart rhythms and idle guitar thoughts, friendly melodies from a Victrola perched on a barrio windowsill. Magical, mystical, the kind of inner-child fantasia that usually guarantees self-indulgence, but here is a field recording from two amigos' mutual unconscious. A+

Dose [Atlantic, 1999]
Ultimately, they're rock and rollers, and this is more a collection, less a soundscape. But because it still morphs song forms toward the overheard, atmosphere and structure remain the stuff you listen for. Making something of the musique concrète palaver that sounds reflect the life of the people more truly than elitist notes, it evokes everyday street culture with vrooms and honks and revs and rumbles, argument and byplay and revelry and casual chit-chat, and, most important, the garbled layering that inflects all sounds as they are usually heard, notes included. But out of this quiet clamor, both natural outgrowth and blessed relief, emerge little melodies that seem deeply familiar even to a non-Chicano--cultural, tipico, imprinted in memory and collective subconscious. The effect is arty for sure, maybe even genteel in its calculatedly unkempt way. Yet it demonstrates once again that at times arty is like its fraternal twin pretentious--a means to something genuinely difficult and beautiful. A

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