MUSIC: Latin Ska Underground and Los Punkeros

various artists
Puro Eskañol: Latin Ska Underground
Aztlan Records

various artists
Los Punkeros
Aztlan Records

Sporting as its logo a variation on the international symbol for poison--a mischievous skull with flames on its forehead replacing the face of doom, a pair of maracas serving as the crossbones--the San Francisco-based Aztlan is an independent label currently freaking gringo rock critics with a compilation series devoted to a slew of surprisingly good Pan-American underground punk bands. Whew--it's about time. Led by pioneering polyglot ska-core bands like the Fabulous Cadillacs, Cafe Tacuba, and King Chango, the constantly growing rock-en-Español revolution has been gaining momentum for years--earning American major-label interest and, we can hope, sowing the seeds for a belated bout of cross-cultural colonization-in-reverse.

Set against the tired Americore, the best of these rockeros suggests a downright insurgent agenda. On Puro Eskañol: Latin Ska Underground, some traditional Latin sounds (flamenco guitars, Afro-Caribbean kitchenware percussion, and big ol' salsa horn sections) are retooled to rock steady--and after a disappointing wankero opener (Orixa's "Sacoedete"), the record takes off and true genre-bending abounds. The neo-con Los Hooligans' "Pi'l Canela" may be more cha-cha-infected than skank-inflected, but Yeska's hyper-revisionist "Greyhound to Chiapas" is fatter-than-yo'-mama-type ska, alternating between blaxploitation-style piano, wah-wah pedals, and sultry horns. An even sturdier bridge between old and new schools comes when Los Pi's shout-along rave-up "No Hay Yuelta Atras" segues easily into the traditional group singing and Spanish guitars of Slow Gherkin's "Salsa III."

Compared to the myriad styles on Puro Eskañol, Aztlan's punkier Los Punkeros is a metal-core washout. Not counting the Woody Woodpecker-esque horn blasts on Las 15 Letras' "Quiero Ir A Bailar" and the insightful English lyrics of Bay of Pigs' "Everybody's an Asshole," the album represents an underground movement that might as well stay underground. Maybe Puro Eskañol works so much better because the ska-cavorting rhythm makes space for musical hybridization more easily than hardcore's rigid 4/4. Or maybe it's just that, in the post-Greenspring and Offday age, punk rock just ain't that radical anymore--no matter what language it's snarled in.

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