Well, for the second time in five years, an Argentinean ska/punk band has kicked everyone else’s ass and released the best pop album of the year. In 1998 it was Los Fabulosos Cadillacs with their out-of-nowhere devil-obsessed speed-jazz-reggae Fabulosos Calavera, and now it’s Bersuit’s turn. Hijos del Culo features at least 12 different styles of music in its 15 tracks, boasts outrageous lyrics and impeccable songcraft, and surprises the crap out of the listener every single time.
And most of you will never hear it. You’ll be all afraid of it: “Oh, I don’t know Spanish all that well, I only took it like one year in high school and I’m all ‘what are you talking about?’ when I hear that stuff, when I listen to music I wanna be able to understand what they’re saying, okay?” And you’ll miss an amazing dirty-minded band at the peak of their powers whose only intention is to bring all modern music to its knees.
The last time Bersuit released an album, 1999’s Libertinaje, it was structured around one of the coolest singles ever: “Sr. Cobranza”, a slamming skankfest that actually accused Argentina’s president by name of profiting from and directing the country’s drug trade. It was so cool and so popular that the government banned it from the airwaves—no ACLU pressure in Buenos Aires—which of course ensured that it would be an even bigger hit. (Don’t those crazy government censors ever learn?)
But Hijos del Culo is another thing altogether. To start with, this is the sound of a band playing and singing as if they’ve been together for 15 years, which they have. Yeah, there’s a raft of supporting musicians here, but the basic band just flat-out cooks and that’s final. The rhythm section of drummer Carlos Martin and bassist Pepe Céspedes can take a song anywhere it wants to go, and very often it’ll go there, about halfway through. Gustavo Cordera’s voice isn’t perfect, perhaps, maybe a little thin and frayed, but he can communicate things with a growl or a whisper that no one else I can think of in the music scene right now can do. And good god those harmonies! ¡Dios mío!
This record is full of pretty songs that aren’t satisfied with just being pretty, they also have to be tough. One good example is the folky Byrdsy Beatlesy “Caroncha”, which bops right along on a bongo groove with its pretty harmonies, until the middle, when gentle pedal steel lines and harmonica riffs cut into its edges and subtly change it into an epic sort of work—all the better to set you up for the final twist, an absolutely boot-yer-head-in gorgeous vocal breakdown right after the four-minute mark that’s both audacious and satisfying.
(Note to self: never again use “audacious” in a review. Makes self sound like asshole. Continue.)
And to follow it up, Bersuit being the snotty little old punks that they are, the next song is “La Petisita Culona”. That title translates to, roughly, “The Little Hottie with the Big Ass”, and it describes a wedding party thrown into chaos by said hottie (and said ass). This is your typical Mexican-style ranchera, done straight and hilariously, with an amazing old Les Paulish guitar run. Brilliant, and funny, and real.
Some timid souls might worry about an album that’s so all over the stylistic map, but Bersuit’s got an answer for you: Hijos del Culo is a concept album. According to the liner notes, approximately 70% of Argentinean society has been “born of the ass”, and the album spends a lot of time proving this theory. Every tune is meant to represent a different segment of Argentinean society, from the angry bust on macho culture in “La del Toro” to the freaky misanthropic psychedelia of “Veneno de Humanidad” (“Poison of Humanity”).
If some of this concept is lost on gringos like us—is the title character “El Gordo Motoneta” (“The Fat Motorcyclist”) the Argentine government or U.S. imperialism? or both?—then it’s okay, because it’s said with such passion and apparent humor. And if some of the stuff just plain flat-out makes no sense, like the ‘60s trip of “Desconexion Sideral”, which appears to be about an astronaut and a witch taking a trip past the sun in a bubble, it doesn’t matter at all. It makes sense in the heart, and in the ears, and in the headphones. This album is clearly a new landmark in South American rock music, and definitely one that’s going to make you feel stupid if you miss it now.
// Notes from the Road
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