Café Tacuba Cuatro Caminos

[MCA; 2003]

Styles: rock en español
Others: Soda Stereo, Aterciopelados, Ilya Kuryaki and the Valderramas

As a student of foreign language and, more generally, an international playboy, I listen to a lot of rock that’s not in English. Unfortunately, that music’s chief attraction is often its novelty. There are three foreign-language rock bands that definitely don’t belong to this novelty category, three bands whose music I listen to completely on its own terms: Germany’s Tocotronic, Japan’s Fukuoka Shirou, and today’s band, Mexico’s Café Tacuba. Their new album, Cuatro Caminos, is just the latest in a series of inventive, entertaining, and substantive records starting in the early ‘90s and continuing, one hopes, into the indefinite future.

More accessible than 1999’s Revés/Yosoy, Cuatro Caminos doesn’t return to the band’s original mix of rock, traditional Mexican music, and good-natured ska, though Élfego Buendía’s endearingly raspy vocals are still central. Instead, the record heads for new sonic territory, most apparent in its challenging rhythms (including some electronic beats, but thankfully no “innovative” jungle ones). “Qué Pasarᔝ and “Recuerdo Prestado” have a throbbing intensity akin to the Clash’s "London Calling,” while the meditative “Mediodía” is notable for its quiet, top-heavy momentum. And some songs, such as “Eo,” do show a more typically Mexican influence. Another standout element of the new sound is the guitar tone and style the band achieve, which I can only describe as a funky drone.

Will this album appeal to non-Spanish speakers? The lyrics have a charming, lightly metaphysical bent to them, sometimes veering a little too far toward pop spirituality for my tastes. But the words often seem to have been chosen mostly for their sound, another weapon in Café Tacuba’s rhythmic arsenal. The songs with this strong lyrical/instrumental connection certainly have international appeal; as for the album as a whole, I think it’s a fairly safe bet to buy it and surprise yourself.

1. Cero y Uno
2. Eo
3. Mediodía
4. Qué Pasará
5. Camino y Vereda
6. Eres
7. Soy o Estoy
8. Encantamiento Inütil
9. Recuerdo Prestado
10. Puntos Cardinales
11. Desperté
12. Tomar el Fresco
13. Hoy Es
14. Hola Adiós