Today, there is a multi-national Rock en Español movement as inventive and diverse as its English-speaking counterpart, and Mexico's Café Tacuba has been one of its brightest stars. David Byrne described their album Re as "the White Album of the Rock en Español movement" because of its dazzling diversity. On Re, Tacuba went from funk to speed metal to samba to Mexican banda -- all done meticulously and with an impish sense of humor.
Café Tacuba's latest is a double CD -- one disc of instrumental tunes, while the second has lyrics. No one was looking forward to this release more than me, but I have to report that it's a disappointment. On the instrumentals, Tacuba -- which uses a drum machine instead of a drummer -- often sounds like some guys noodling around late at night in a recording studio.
The group's sense of humor is evident in the tunes' titles (the first cut is "11," the third is "9" and so on), but the meaningless titles just underline how forgettable the songs are. Guest appearances by the Kronos Quartet and a clarinet quartet are highlights, but many of the songs move about listlessly.
The second disc feels more finished, but the songs are often low energy, in contrast to the wild-eyed creativity of the group's previous work. Individual songs are pleasant enough, but would seem better interspersed with more upbeat tunes. Lounge-core fans might be attracted to the songs' wispiness, but rockers will be scratching their heads, wondering why Tacuba took such a mysterious turn. To hear some of the best of Rock en Español, though, try Re.
Puerto Rico's Puya mixes Latin rhythms with a heavy-metal/rap sound reminiscent of Limp Bizkit or Korn. The bi-lingual group does not meld metal with salsa; it juxtaposes them in a Jekyll-and-Hyde way. Songs start with a sweet Latin groove, then throat-ripping screams and bone-crunching guitars burst out, disappearing just as suddenly.
The transitions segue surprisingly well, but it is hard to imagine that there are a lot of listeners who want Korn in their salsa. Still, what Puya does, it does well. As young Latinos come to embrace both the hip-swaying music of their parents and the head-banging tunes they've claimed for themselves, Puya will no doubt be at the crest of a growing wave. - Marty Lipp