By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Of these two discs--both from would-be Becks from south of the border--Plastilina Mosh's sophomore release, Juan Manuel, is the better, mostly because it's more of a live-band thing than band-in-a-box product. "Boombox Baby," the record's second track, is its best: bubblegum bass, chicken-scratch guitar, lemon-meringue synth. Its tongue barely fits in its cheek--the first verse spells out "F-U-N-K L-O-V-E"--but it also sounds like a million bucks, as good, as weightless, and as party-people ebullient as anything Daft Punk or Cassius or any of those new-school French hedonists have cooked up. "Human Disco Ball"--there's a pattern here, do you see it?--is swell too, hooking up some vocoder and a bit of Money Mark's organ to a standard-issue house loop while coming up with quite a bit more than four on the floor. The Moshers, who made Juan Manuel with Mark and Beta Band member Chris Allison, are less successful when they slip into lower-key territory, as they do on the humdrum "Arpoador," an aimless bit of noodling that cries out for something as singular as Mark's somnolent croon or the Betas' w(h)ack(ed) rapping. But mostly they stick to the rapid-fire mishmash that "Boombox Baby" sets up so well.
Titan's Elevator is fine too, but there's far less to chew on. Like Plastilina Mosh, Titan is a rock band learning how to be a dance band--or is that the other way around?--but unlike their countrymen, the members have not yet determined how to bring rock's transience to dance's up-all-night stamina. Most of the shit here drags, and in a way that could be avoided with the help of Juan Manuel's more organic sonic detailing. Still, it's easy to see why the Grand Royal folks lured the band to parent company Virgin: "Corazon" (produced, as is about half of Elevator, by Spearhead-Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy mastermind Michael Franti) gets it right, running a sampled choir against a gigantic bass line and a cloud of twinkling keyboards, capitalizing on the boom-boom-boom's mammoth potential.
The problem here, of course, is that neither of these bands has anything to say. Sure, there's the politics of a bilateral music culture (or, more succinctly, America's music culture, which, when convenient, picks and chooses various elements from Mexico, spit-shines 'em, and markets them as, well, funk-soul hombres, or Spanglish-speaking oddities, or sexualized Mary Magdalenes and their bonbon-shaking Jesuses), but outside of Titan's refashioning of the Starsky & Hutch theme song (in "C'mon Feel the Noise," another nod to the monolith to the north), not even that is really explored. Not that there's anything wrong with an apolitical agenda--something Green Party-card-toting Americans have to get used to--but after two hours of sparklingly senseless sheen, all the fun--top-notch or no--can get as tiresome as a stuffy NAFTA summit.
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