Out There

Mas means less
Colossal Head
Los Lobos
Warner Bros.

The premier roots band of the '80s has been mutating into the premier avant-rock band of the '90s--first with Kiko, then as Latin Playboys, now this step in the evolution from bar-band traditionalists into studio creations. This isn't Los Lobos anymore, not the band of By the Light of the Moon; this is Mitchell Froom's band as much as it is David Hidalgo or Louie Perez's, and it doesn't get much more out for purists than this. Imagine Santana on a Zappa kick, Tom Waits fronting a Latin bar band in a dead-end border town, then think weirder.

Colossal Head is a dense, beautiful, hypnotic concoction--murky even when it sounds crystal clear, edgy even during quiet moments. The horns now sound beamed up from outer space, the vocals bent and broken through trickery, and the guitars as fat as the notes banged on a piano. This is the genius and soul of Los Lobos, what kept the group special even when it got sidetracked doing Richie Valens and kid's records: It has managed to infuse a brilliant modernism into the sounds as musty as the blues and border conjunto, infusing them with jagged bolts of electric funk.

Los Lobos could take the blues and make it unrecognizable, yet never spill a drop of so-called authenticity; take funk and squeeze the beat out if it, but still make you dance; take a penny and turn it into a $100 bill. The percussion at the outset of "Life is Good" is gloomy and impenetrable, the sound of drums and organs slowly riding underneath a passionate soul vocal. Then, just as the groove gets going, the bottom falls out of the song and it seems to slip away into quiet static and distortion. The guitars become a buzz, like the sound of a kazoo, and the background vocals dissolve into shouts and whispered asides.

Colossal Head falls apart at times like this, but only because it speeds through its songs like a satellite plunging through the atmosphere shaking away detritus. Los Lobos began as a Latin-American band and has grown into the preeminent American band, owing as much to Sly Stone, Captain Beefheart, John Zorn, and Muddy Waters as to the traditionalists for whom La Pistola y El Corazon was once recorded.

This is the sound of the barrio filtered through the shiny steel city ("Little Japan"), the sound of the barbed-wire bar played in the arena ("Manny's Bones"), the sound of '70s soul string sections whining behind disturbing echoes and fuzz (the title song); and, Los Lobos, not being a band to forget its roots, titles the first cut "Revolution," which you'll forget by the time you arrive at "Buddy Ebsen Loves the Night Time."

--Robert Wilonsky


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