-->
Music

Charanga Cakewalk: Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge

Matt Cibula

'Mexicanos' is this album in a nutshell. Ramos takes a basic cheesy polka beat and keeps loading elements on top of it to see what will happen.


Charanga Cakewalk

Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge

Label: Artemis
US Release Date: 2004-10-05
UK Release Date: 2004-10-25
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

I'm mad as hell at Artemis Records and Triloka Records and Michael Ramos, who for all intents and purposes IS the group called Charanga Cakewalk. They let this record come out last year without sending me 50 copies to rave about and send to all my music-nerd friends. Retroactively, I'm furious.

Because this would have been top 10 stuff for me last year, or this year, or whatever year it was released. Michael Ramos has taken the two-beat Central American cumbia and run with it. He uses cumbia, that extremely popular but much-maligned music of the people, to fuel this record, which contains more than an hour of atmospheric strange pop music full of all the other musics in the world.

"Mexicanos" is this album in a nutshell. Ramos takes a basic cheesy polka beat and keeps loading elements on top of it to see what will happen: reggae-ish organ, accordion, chanted vocals, tons of percussion lines with dubby echoes, short proggy synth stabs that sound like mariachi trumpets but are clearly nothing of the sort. It's all very smooth and non-aggressive and easy to take, but sticks in the memory anyway.

Ramos, who has played with the BoDeans and the Rembrandts and Patty Griffin and Paul Simon and a lot of other people, is working on a kind of mythos here. Cumbia is a lower-class art form in Colombia and Central America and Mexico and in Mexican America, a music of the people that gets no love from anyone else. But Ramos loves it, and loves it enough to mess with it.

"Tu y Yo" sounds like a cumbia jam turned inside out, with ska coming to the fore rather than submerged the way it usually is, and with the accordion line punched way up over the percussion line to underscore the song's essential melancholy. "El Indio" does the same thing in a different way; he repeats the three words that he says are used in most every Latin song (Corazón, Amor, Porque) so he can squeeze every bit of real emotion out of them. The song also gets a Caribbean feel from all the synthesizers Ramos uses in one section, only to drop them out on the song's yearning chorus so that it hits harder.

The song "Charanga Cakewalk" shows Ramos' true range. It starts like a weird muted dance-pop number, funky bass interacting with world-music guitar, and then bursts into flower with some big-chorded action and a hot accordion line. Larry Chaney's work on guitar and cuatro comes in, then drops out for a haunting keyboard line. Then, just when you have it all figured out, an electronic chamber-music quartet comes in to mozart everything all up. It's stunning and funny and charming, while still managing to be inoffensive and light. I could go on and on here, raving about how "Volcanico" sounds like Tex-Mex Eno, or how "Romanticos Desesperádos" is sexier than any music has a right to be, but I think I'll just let you discover all this stuff for yourself.

The vibe here is NPR-friendly but still adventurous, forward-looking but respectful, multicolored and single-minded. Ramos is looking for nothing less than a new definition of Mexican American music, one that incorporates all other music in the world together with that cheesy insistent beautiful workingman's and -women's "low-class" cumbia beat. He has succeeded brilliantly in every way.

Well, every way but one -- namely, that he didn't get me 50 copies of this record last year so I could have raved about it at the time it came out. Instead, he's on tour opening for Patty Griffin, and apparently stealing the show every night. Get on board now, because the next moves from Charanga Cakewalk will be a lot more important.

9
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less
TV

'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image