Thursday, November 24, 2016
The two albums released by the band known as LATIN PLAYBOYS in 1994 and 1999 - that's Latin Playboys and Dose, respectively - are worth considering and hearing. I recall them being played a lot here on community radio at the time, winning huge critical praise (Album Of The Years from various places), and yet I'm willing to bet that they didn't actually sell a whole lot and seem to be scarcely even remembered at this point in history. Latin Playboys were essentially a studio project for David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, both well know for their longtime work with Los Lobos, and their producer/muso friends, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Los Lobos, as I hope you know, add up to a whole lot more than that band who did the La Bamba soundtrack (which was fucking ubiquitous back here in the day, and probably ruined the band for an eternity for many). Some interesting points to note: the band has been around since 1974, formed by a group of young Latino Americans with a fondness for traditional Mexican music, Ry Cooder and Richard Thompson (not the staple music diet of a typical teen at the time); they released an independent LP way back in 1978 (a record, I have just discovered, which fetches stupid money on Discogs); they made their first real splash on the LA punk scene, supporting Public Image's first show in LA in 1980; their longtime brass/wind man is Steve Berlin, he of the Flesh Eaters/Blasters; and their 1992 LP, Kiko, one often described as their 'experimental' album, is totally fucking magnificent, and a real fave of mine - it as a beautiful sparseness to it, with sweet harmonies and off-kilter percussion. And there are other albums in their vast discography to consider, too (their first 'proper' LP, 1984's How Will The Wolf Survive?, is also tops), but let's speak of Latin Playboys.
This band I speak of were put together by Hidalgo and Perez after their experience recording Kiko and a desire to get deeper with their musical experimentation. In essence, let's cut the horseshit and call 'em what they were: an experimental side project. The band took the Latin/roots approach of their more famous other group and melded it into an avant-garde take thereof, with scratchy guitars, feedback, noisy electronics, tinny percussion and songs which appear to be on the verge of falling apart. Roll it all together into a recording approach which basically sounds like a rough demo - which is how the band came to be in the first place - and that's Latin Playboys. If I was to compare it to anything - and of course I must - the closest approximation would be Tom Waits' more 'out' recordings, such as Bone Machine, Swordfishtrombones and the Black Rider score, although Latin Playboys' approach is more haphazard, bringing to mind the way someone like, oh dear god, Guided By Voices put albums together circa 1990 - 1993 (please note: Latin Playboys and GBV sound absolutely nothing like each other; I am merely pointing out the 'sketch'-like approach to song craft both bands had at one point). Here's a bunch of killer tracks which give you an overview of their oeuvre: 'Viva La Raza', 'New Zandu', 'Same Brown Earth', 'Crayon Sun', 'Fiesta Erotica', 'Locoman' and 'Paula Y Fred'. What's interesting, too, is that, despite being recorded and released 5 years apart, the albums sound like they could've sprung from the same recording session. There is little differentiating the two in regards to quality and style. Both were released on Slash at the time, who were probably riding high on the success of drek like Faith No More and L7 at the time (as well as the general boost the whole biz had in the '90s), and since that day will never likely come again, you can probably forget about a semi-major recording company indulging their talent to this extent once more. Whatever. Here's the good news: Latin Playboys, and the two terrific albums they released in the '90s, are largely forgotten these days, and you can probably pick up the CDs for a buck or two a piece from a charity store with ease, as I did. For totally deconstructed and reconstructed Latin rock & roll, they're hard to beat.