CD Reviews


Cybertropic Chilango Power

(Luaka Bop)

Speaking (fairly) softly and carrying a big stick.

Whatever cybertropic chilango power might be, Los de Abajo certainly have a lot of it. Named for a famous novel of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the eight-piece band from Mexico City carefully refine the musical mix of their 1998 debut this time around, while keeping the radical politics—they were inspired by the Zapatista guerillas—intact. Musically their blend of offbeat rock, hip-hop, ska, and roots music owes a lot to world-punk pioneers Mano Negra, but they’re far from copyists; the stamp here is individual, from the wild banda brass of “Anda Levanta” (“Go On, Rise Up”) to the addictive psychedelic merengue rhythms of “Joder” (“Screw”) or the lazy hip-hop beats that power “Que Mala Suerte” (“Such Bad Luck”). But adventurous as the body is, the heart underneath is staunchly Mexican, speaking out for the downtrodden and exploited working classes—never more so than on the cumbia of “El Indio” or “Vuelvo a Comenzar” (“I’ll Start Again”) with its strong acoustic ranchera inflections. Mature, but never pulling its punches, Cybertropic Chilango Power is proof that you don’t have to be loud to make a big noise. The U.S. has Rage Against the Machine, Britain has Asian Dub Foundation and Chumbawamba, and Mexico has Los de Abajo as the musical keepers of their political conscience. Chris Nickson


Sound Go Round


Pretty-in-pink girl rock that makes Barbie seem like a nasty sourpuss.

In the weird alternative reality where Barbie is a living human being, Dressy Bessy are her house band and Sound Go Round, the sophomore full-length from this Denver quartet, is in continual rotation on the hot-pink mini-stereo system at the Dream House. The band’s most obvious strength is its frontwoman and principal songwriter, Tammy Ealom. Sounding as sweet and crunchy as a kids’ breakfast cereal, her lighthearted (and surprisingly expressive) lyrics skitter and pogo over the groovy guitars and jangly tambourines on tracks like “I Saw Cinnamon” and “Oh Mi Amour.” Her cheery presence helps the band transcend its second-tier Elephant 6 status (guitarist John Hill also plays in the Apples in Stereo) and become something more than another herd of retro kids with vintage guitars. Unfortunately, this is still the sort of music that will never have universal appeal. Those with any particular aversions to groovy 1960s pop, the color pink, or smiling until your face hurts are strongly encouraged to steer very clear; Sound Go Round will make you as itchy and uncomfortable as the Barbie aisle in your local toy store. That is, of course, unless you have a preadolescent daughter or sister and want a compelling alternative to Josie and the Pussycats. Tizzy Asher


The Dawn of the Butterfly

(My Pal God Records)

Devo-loving San Francisco trio beg to carry your two.

In the album-opening “Dawn of the Butterfly” neurotic-rock combo Knodel announce, “Knodel has arrived to rock/ Give it to you all night long,” but these stiff declarations sound suspiciously like the school poindexter’s nervous insistence that he has a Canadian girlfriend. Though they revel in hip-hop braggadocio, Knodel are science-fair rock, and their digitized vocals are appropriately robotic. What sets Knodel apart is the way they weave in earnest, human vocal lines. In “Knodel Blaster,” the single-monikered Dan pleads “run the weight of the wind” like a carbon-based rallying cry against the chattering machines. “Crying the Tears” is skittery and sugar-charged, mechanized beats scrambling like tiny spiders behind gurgling synths while Dan promises “She’s got Knodel, and it’s alright.” The problem is that Knodel’s bravado gets old, and by the time they get around to declaring “It’s a Knodel world!” in “Knodel Is Gonna Take You Home,” these boasts have grown as tepid and conventional as a knock-knock joke. Paired with standard pop, Dawn of the Butterfly would hold scant appeal. Fortunately, Knodel’s darting Moogs and chintzy rhythms are enough to cause any calculus buff to make randy, restless advances on his significant figure.That’s right. She lives in Ontario. J. Edward Keyes




Dreamscape techno from the Scottish Highlands.

If the more intelligent limbs of the sprawling dance-music octopus lend themselves to extremes of trainspotter cultishness, Boards of Canada are their genre’s Jim Jones. The aptly dubbed “pastoral techno” duo rival only names like Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) and Richie Hawtin (Plastikman) in their ability to make otherwise insufferably cucumber-cool beat freaks lose all control. Unlike the former’s madhouse drill ‘n’ bass and the latter’s stark minimalism, BoC trawl gentler waters exploring the outer limits of ambient noise and smoothed-out sample wizardry. With 1998’s Music Has the Right to Children firmly ensconsed in the pantheon of now-classic Warp releases (see Autechre’s Incunabala, Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album), the pair seemed content to rest on their laurels for a while; nearly four years on, they’ve produced a record that should retain them their rabidly loyal fan base. Undulating synth washes, flutish keyboards, and gentle percussion bob and float like flotsam on a wide, warm sea, occasionally yielding a hot flash of brilliance as they catch the sun. On tracks like “Gyroscope,” a baby’s gurgling plays against a rolling, repetitive drumbeat and mournful keyboards like a Twin Peaks dream, while “Alpha and Omega” brushes dangerously close to dream catcher New Age-iness. Those with patience and a passion for BoC’s studio subtleties will no doubt bow at the altar of Geogaddi; the uninitiated, however, may not be so quick to drink the Kool-Aid. Leah Greenblatt