Crossing Musical Barriers
A journey through the greatest albums in Latin Alternative music
I opt for spending my Saturday morning at a local record store browsing through the countless albums that fill the shelves.
Published on LatinoLA: April 4, 2003
My eyes are fixated on the front row, my fingers are running through the tops of the little shrink-wrapped treasures. It all becomes so hypnotic, the tick tack sound of albums slapping against each other and the little glare from the lights above, then, my fingers stop for a second and I feel my face turn red and a guilty smirk spread across my face. It?s an album I?d never admit to once owning, and loving. A little further down the row I find other albums that remind me of specific periods of time and people in life that made me smile, songs that changed the course of my life. My fingers keep running along with the memories now in motion?
It?s music that paints a picture in your mind and molds the lyrics to your own story, making the song exclusively about you, your love, your loss and your sorrow. All of us have them, some so meaningful that they?ll play at our wedding, or simply play every night as you fall asleep. But what makes an album great? Is it one that triggers the vault of human emotion? Or is it one that encompasses great lyrics, flawless arrangements, cutting edge style or breakthrough experimentation?
To identify what exactly makes a great album is like asking; 1950s Elvis or 1970s Elvis? Critics, imposters and posers can argue to their heart's delight. Truth of the matter is that a great album combines all aspects of memory and music.
In its relatively new existence, Latin Alternative artists have given the Latin, Latin-American and Spanish community their own breed of great alternative albums, some which have crossed language barriers and creating a world audience.
So here they are?
The Greatest Albums in Latin Alternative
10. Jumbo - Restaurant - The band?s mainstream freshman album launched them into an international spotlight placing them on a list among the next generation?s musical leaders. Restaurant leads the movement of the new power-alterna-pop era, fusing love ballads with loud guitars and keyboards. ?Fotografia?, ?Siento Que?, ?Alienados Para Siempre? and ?Aqui,? are most notable, nicely moving along this blissful journey into sound.
9. Kinky - Kinky - Los Prisioneros redefined Latin Alternative in the 80?s, Caifanes, Caf? Tacuba and Maldita Vecindad did it in the 90?s, and in the twenty-first century, Monterrey?s Kinky is penetrating a whole new audience. What makes Kinky among the most unique albums in Latin Alternative is not that the album itself had a successful crossover career, but that it in fact made the whole world cross into their realm. Kinky, the band, have found themselves touring in places such as Germany, Sweden and into even more foreign land like Kansas. The album fuses all traditional Mexican folk elements with a worldly contemporary electronic and drum and bass sound. The result is a wonderfully twisted version of past and present generations with the capability to make leaps and bounds across continental sounds.
8. Babasonicos- Jesscio - Describing Jessico is like attempting to describe a Van Gogh piece of art. From funk to electronic, from western to metal to disco to plain ole rock and roll, Jessico has it all, and the end result is perhaps the most complete album on the list, one through twelve.
7. Gustavo Cerati - Bocanada - Former frontman for the Latin Alternative group Soda Stereo (see number 5), Gustavo Cerati, like Enrique Bunbury and Manu Chao, has broken away from the roots of his original band to bloom into a new experimental musician. Bocanada gave listeners only a taste of what would follow in his still-flourishing solo career. Fusing music elements from all aspects of world music, from lounge singing to jazz and electronica, Bocanada is masterful and beautifully arranged.
6. Enrique Bunbury - Peque?o - Peque?o is evidence of Bunbury?s musical maturity. Perhaps Latin Alternative?s version of Viva Hate, Peque?o is reminiscent of when Morrissey broke away from his former group, The Smiths and introduced to the world a strong album, which proved that life would indeed go on as a solo artist. Although Bunbury?s solo material may not reach the cult status as his work with his former group, Heroes Del Silencio, he will never cease to surprise his fans and music critics alike.
5. Soda Stereo- Unplugged - A masterpiece by a musical genius. Thus far, this is the best effort of the MTV unplugged series. Recorded at the tail end of their run, this Unplugged reinvents songs from their career as Soda Stereo, a band that is considered among the founders and godfathers of Latin alternative music. The Unplugged album captures the essence of what this band was and what they meant to the Latin Alternative music culture. After decades of touring and recording, Soda Stereo have now become muses to the next era of Latin Alternative artists.
4. Manu Chao - Clandestino - With songs in Spanish, English, French and Portuguese, Clandestino can be found in the World Music section of most record stores, which signifies the diversity in the music. Manu Chao recorded this album while he traveled the world and in the process, making social, economical and political observations about the places which he visited. ?Welcome to Tijuana: Tequila, Sexo y Marijuana? he sings on one track. Manu Chao is another artist on this list [Cerati, Bunbury, and you may also count Jaguares] to have broken away from his former group and whom is finding success as a solo artist. Chao, like other artist on this list, doesn?t shy away from political criticisms.
3. Jaguares - Equilibrio del Jaguar - After the copyright battles that resulted in the Caifanes break-up, Saul Hernandez bounced back from throat cancer with his most compelling work of his career. Produced by Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), Equilibrio is a mystical journey with tracks such as ?Huracan?, ?Detras de los Cerros.? Equilibrio del Jaguar symbolized the musician?s departure from the Caifanes signature sound into a new generation of musical exploration.
2. Maldita Vecindad - Circo - The year was 1991 when Maldita handed the world an album that included ?Poco de Sangre?, ?Kumbala?, ?Pachuco?, and ?Solin?, songs that would become both pop and cult-underground anthems in Latin Alternative. Circo opened the doors for punk-ska music in the Latin Alternative market, and showed that regardless of its crude underground beginnings, ska and punk could be marketed successfully in the popular market. More importantly, Circo is a social commentary about poverty, hunger and corruption made successful in a country where opposing opinions are quickly quieted.
1 Caf? Tacuba - Re - Caf? Tacuba is arguably the most creative band in Latin Alternative. In Re, Caf? Tacuba has fused violins, trumpets, flutes, sax, cello, piano, with guitars, drum machines, keyboards, stand up bass and acoustic guitars among other elements and then filled in any gaps with instruments such as the jarana, meodion, tololoche, contrabjao, and guitarron to create a unique sound. It was hailed by critics as one of the most groundbreaking works in Latin Alternative to date, comparable to the Beatles ?The White Album? for its bravery in music experimentation. Re broke the stereotype genres of what rock en espa?ol was supposed to be, and introduced a new, indescribable sound.
Eddie Monterrubio is a writer for mundorockero.com, a Latin Alternative online publication and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org