Quiet as it's kept, the chief frustration of the rock-crit gig is burnout -- the fact that the sheer surfeit of music can become tedious. As with artists who turn to musical tourism, critics can over-hype fresh sounds from unexpected quarters out of mere delight at discovering something that seems new. And so this column finds me delving into the global village for stuff outside my typical purview.
First up is Mexican Institute of Sound, who've recently dropped Mejico Maxico (Nacional; ***). Consisting of Camilo Lara, aka DJ Pata Pata, and Oliver Castro, this duo from Mexico City's underground musica movement plays a combination of Latin/electronica/indie. The rather deft digital divo Lara possesses a surprising breadth of influences, ranging from Al Green and A Flock of Seagulls to Aphex Twin and Augustus Pablo. Hence, the CD is convincingly dense, a carefully crafted mix of cumbia, dub, hip-hop and cha-cha-cha among several genres, spliced with snippets of Esquivel and Juan Rulfo's poetry. Ringing with salsa brass fanfare, "Mirando a las Muchachas" is among the cuts best illustrating the era's techno drift and culture clash. Coming from one of the metropolis' foremost icons, Mejico Maxico is a vital snapshot of Mexico City as dazzling sound collage.
In the Pinker Tones, Barcelona has its own echo of such south-of-the-border acts as Mexico's Plastilina Mosh. The duo's The Million Colour Revolution (Nacional;***) rivals MIS somewhat in eclecticism, as all these genres get an airing: psychedelia, funk, soul, bossa, break beat, pop, swing and lounge. The animated clip for single "Sonido Total" has placed it on MySpace heavy rotation. On this track, the PT's Professor Manso and Mr. Furia have achieved dancefloor-thumpin' disco reminiscent of Zapp's and the Dazz Band's heyday -- far more enjoyably than current Jamiroquai.
Bristol, UK's Massive Attack are also iconic for fostering the late era of rare-groove exploration and sonic experimentation to which Lara and others are indebted. The group that launched Tricky and for whom the genre trip-hop was coined drops its greatest hits, Collected (Virgin;***1/2), on April 4, with new recordings (fifth CD Weather Underground) and tour dates to follow. Collected traces how the Attack's four discs produced some of the most exalted future music since the Byrds' late-1960s jet rock. The beat-driven symphonics of masterpiece "Unfinished Sympathy" and other classics like "Safe From Harm" and "Daydreaming" appear, of course. The Massive crew's pioneering force strikes again with new single "Live With Me," upon which cult soul-folkie Terry Callier guest stars.
I will extend the links in this column's sonic chain back to the States to give a nod to Master P's greatest hits: ReMix Classics (Koch;**). The problematic limitations of his music can almost be overcome, as Katrina's wake gives many aspects of New Orleans' lost culture new luster. Onetime ubiquitous tracks like "We Bout It," featuring Black, and "Say Ugh," featuring Silkk the Shocker, definitely summarize recent pop history, the late '90s, when Master P's No Limit empire greatly helped establish the Dirty South as a musical force to be reckoned with. So give dap where it's due. Then again, "Vip Homies" attempts to draw a dubious connection between the bravery of MLK and P's fallen banger boys.
Some of the best North American creative expression arises from the jam-band scene -- and some of the worst. Yet, there's always room for improvement, as guitar-and-organ trio Soulive has shown. Axman Eric Krasno and the Brothers Evans' improvisations are now much more organic and fluid, as their show last month at Neighborhood Theatre demonstrated. Soulive's recent CD, Break Out (Concord;***1/2), elevates the band above other jazzy jammers and jazz dabblers from the Hip-Hop Nation. Leaving the literal, '60s soul-jazz mimicry behind, Soulive ably collaborates with black rock greats past (Chaka Khan on "Back Again") and present (Maktub's Reggie Watts on "What Can You Do") and starts to craft a workable millennial synthesis of jazz, funk and world traditions. A cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Crosstown Traffic," featuring sacred steel phenom Robert Randolph, heralds a golden age of digi-bop that might approach the elder guitar god's revolutionary inner-visions.