Pepito is a two-person band from San Francisco who just may have made the debut album of the year. They traffic in the ambiguities and dialectics of the modern world, and they rock like a fuckin’ beast when they choose to. Apparently, the revolution has already begun without any of us knowing about it, and it’s here in the form of this CD. So, since Migrante is the sound of the future, you’d better start getting to know it now. ,p>Pepito plays post-rock like Tortoise and bleepy-glitchy electronic music like IDM artists and folk-influenced Spanish-language pop like Aterciopelados and tough churning garage-punk stuff like . . . Trail of Dead — and that’s just on the opening song, “Terapia”. Every time they lock into a groove, they’re thinking about the next one just a few seconds away, but somehow it doesn’t seem forced or studied or anything except “this is what we need to sound like on this song.” That’s just the way they are; track after track features more twists than O. Henry’s Collected Stories and more influences than you can find in Beck’s whole oeuvre.
Check “Ardilla,” where they sample Todd Trainor’s drum sounds off Shellac’s album At Action Park and set them to work backing a kick-ass stop-start punk tune where José Márquez screams, “Those who kill for profits / Those who abuse for a dollar” (translation courtesy of their website, www.pepito.net), only to interrupt the song halfway through for the sound of the ocean waves. Check “Little Brown Baby,” where the main percussion sounds appear to be a copier with asthma and Ana Machado’s sweet voice croons a song of hope: “One day I’ll have a little brown baby / El mundo te espera / La vida es tuya.” Or check “Rewind, Stop,” with its repeated “Fast forward / Stop / Fast forward / Fast forward,” which is both more annoyingly avant-garde than any Aphex Twin freakout and a more interesting comment on the similarity of recording and memory than anything I’ve ever heard.
It’s really kind of hard to describe the Pepito sound, but it exists. The most obvious recent antecedent of this kind of furious mix of musics all jammed up together is Mexico City’s Café Tacuba, who did something like this on their album Reves/Yosoy; except, of course, that CT had to separate their “weird” side from their “pop” side on two different discs. Pepito takes those two discs and melds them together, along with an affinity for glitchy sound effects, a DIY ethic you won’t believe, (they recorded the whole album for less than $2500), and more ambition on one 43-minute album than in most band’s whole careers.
Pepito is a political group: Machado (originally from Tijuana) and Márquez (born in Havana), who appear to be a couple in real life as well as in their music, are intelligent and savvy global citizens with axes to grind. Globalization at the expense of workers is bad, and they don’t mind saying so; they make their points even more effective by singing in Spanish, English, and French. But they’re not lockstep leftists, either — two of their most interesting songs use space metaphors as slaps at communist human-rights abuse: “Salyut” uses an astronaut lost on a spacewalk as a metaphor for the demise of the U.S.S.R., and “S.O.S.” takes off after a mythical Cuban rocket launch (another translation, here): “We shall prove the capacity of the superior sciences of Marxist-Leninist socialism!” And yet several songs appear to about real human emotions: love, fear, confusion, and hope.
It sounds like I’m kinda sprung for this album, and I have to admit that I am. Why? I guess it can all be summed up in the glorious mess that is the album’s standout track, the eight-minute “New Wave.” We start with squeaky ambient studio sounds, which turn into two bars of confrontative hype-hop techno, which turn into a very Tacuba-like groove for a few minutes. Suddenly, the whole thing comes to a stop with the sounds of a tape recorder and Machado’s voice: “Hi, baby! Listen to this tape that I made for you, because I love you. This music is our world. I’m never gonna let you go.” We’re back to the post-whatever groove, but I’m in love already because any band that loves mix tapes knows where it’s at.
Back to the music: we get a repeated chant, “La cultura sí circula” (“culture circulates”), over a spoken French part talking about how moisture evaporates, turns into rain, and returns to earth again. Wait a minute, I’m starting to get it — mix tapes, music, culture, everything, they are there for the picking, they are meant to be plundered, they change and mutate and shift, that’s the way of the world. And they bring it on home with a monster rock section at the end, with the refrain, “Aqui viene el sonido nuevo” (“Here comes the new sound”). So, like, all those tapes I made for people all those years where I put Shonen Knife right up against Funkadelic followed by Sugarcubes and EPMD and Hank Williams — that was actually a blow for revolutionary freedom? Hell yeah it was! The noble mix tape, so recently despoiled by sweater-wearers with horrible tastes, has been restored to its rightful place of glory! Hallelujah!
Any band that loves music this much, and plays it so well, and messes with it so blatantly, deserves great stardom. Start telling the kids: Pepito is here to start some fuegos, kick some culos, and seize the motherfuckin’ means of produccion. They’re here to stay.