Nortec Collective makes music without borders

Ed Morales
Newsday (MCT)

As Cinco de Mayo approaches, Tijuana's Nortec Collective wants to make sure everyone knows what being Mexican in the 21st century means.

Nortec's dizzying array of electronica, sometimes augmented by live musicians, pulses like a crackling sound wave from within and without the Mexican soul, Like all of us in the NAFTA age, this is music that lives on both sides of the border. Their new album, "Tijuana Sound Machine" (Nacional Records), works like an all-nighter in TJ - when it's over, you're a different person.

The collective's 2005 album, "Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 3" established their new strategy of collaborating with real guitarists and horn players. It also introduced vocals and songs that had more conventional pop formats. But "Tijuana Sound Machine," which uses only two (arguably their most prominent) DJs, Bostich and Fussible, is more like a painting that might be created at one of their gigs - it's filled with bursts of color and bold, daring strokes of art-dance genius.

If you think that means this album is less danceable and more cerebral, you're right. Take "Rosarito," for instance. One could imagine Bostich (aka Ramon Amezcua), who created Nortec's signature tune "Polaris" in 1999, reworking that song's dance rhythms to evoke the laid-back lobster shacks that dot the roads around Rosarito, which lies just south of Tijuana. Instead, "Rosarito" is a minimalist masterpiece of deconstructed tubas and timbales that can leap across any high-tech fence Lou Dobbs could possibly propose.

While Bostich speaks through vocoders, sampled accordions and nervous electrical energy, Fussible (Pepe Mogt) continues to explore Nortec's Beck-ish propensity for childlike narratives sung with deadpan vocals. The album's de facto hit single "Brown Bike" features a vocal by Vitamins for You's Bryce Kushnier and a chorus of earnest kids. "It's funny how things work/they work out/they work out," is the mantra, set off by acoustic guitar chords, a noodling harpsichord and a blast of Herb Alpert-style horns.

The languid two-beat pulse of norteno, whether in the guise of ranchera, cumbia or banda, is always the subtext here. Just because they're Nortec doesn't mean they've forgotten their roots. For all the futuristic robot vocals of the title track and the psychedelic nostalgia of "Ciruela Electrica (Electric Prune)," there are elegiac moments like "Jacinto," whose accordion melody paints the picture of a sunrise over an almost forgotten ancient landscape.

Nortec's music enjoys so much synergy with the times we live in because it's rooted not so much in a fixed place but in a steady motion. The rusted red late-'60s Dodge on the cover of "Tijuana Sound Machine" is the perfect metaphor for the journey they intend to take us on, to a place where borders don't exist and the night doesn't end until you want it to.

Tengo La Voz

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