Review : Mexican Institute of Sound - Politico
PopmattersEvery few years an artist releases a record that puts a modern dance club twist on the traditional sounds of a culture. From the bass-propped banjo of Rednex “Cotton-eye Joe” making a mockery of Americana to Edelweiss’s chart-topping “Bring Me Edelweiss” back in the late 80s, or Fatboy Slim’s recent resurrection of Elvis. This trope comes up all too frequently but usually runs its course in one single, or at least a single release. It goes without saying that there’s a lot to love about traditional music even without the modernization. After all, it would never have become so traditional if people for generations hadn’t embraced it. That is precisely the reason that projects like these are usually successful and usually appealing. Take something you know a great number of people already have an affinity for and dress it up in the sound of the day.
Camilo Lara, the principal producer behind Mexican Institute of Sound (notably also the president of the Mexican chapter of EMI) got started making holiday “best of” mixes for his friends. These mixes also included his own creations which sampled traditional mexican instrumentation, song structure and mariachi guitars and horns. He was then encouraged to take those remixes to the next level and start cutting his own CDs as Mexican Institute of Sound. Politico is the 4th such record.
Making this sort of traditional-meets-modern formula work is a difficult thing to do once, rare to see twice and Lara is now on his fourth record. This fact alone is indicative of a better than average formula. On this record it appears to be because he’s still aims for and succeeds best on his original material.
Politico begins with a rather simple little Cumbia-style organ-based melody interspersed with some pitched-up cat-calls—like a Mexican version of James Brown. Over that, the first appearance of old vinyl horn recordings—a staple for the rest of the record. While it builds up over the first few minutes and begins to sound like it might be going somewhere, it then starts meander and is then decomposed. There is something unfinished sounding about this track that makes it come off like an intro. It gives way to “Especulando”, which has a more mainstream electronic sound—simple breaks and a repetitious vocal sample. The hook is comprised of wavering electro warbles and around the middle of the song another layer of breaks really enriches it. This is the stand up and take notice moment where the record begins to sound like something that could be good. But once again this crescendo just seems to carry on at this point. One gets the impression that MIS is great at the build-up up but not so adept at conclusions. Eventually some of the beats just get stripped away revealing the looping synths which now just seem a little too off beat....full text
AllmusicPolitico, the fifth full-length album by Mexican Institute of Sound (producer and songwriter Camilo Lara) is an album that almost wasn't. In 2011, an enormous amount of the explosive C4 was discovered next door to Lara's residence -- it was set to be detonated; by whom and for what purpose was never determined. In a recent interview, Lara said that he didn't deliberately set out to go into politics, but that politics had come to his house. These 13 songs, composed and assembled by Lara, address the chaos, destruction, tragedy, and violence that have become all-too-familiar elements in Mexican lives. Politico is a statement in the same way that the Clash's Sandinista! or the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks were, but it isn't nostalgic. Nor is it sonically similar to either. Longtime fans of MIS may have some initial issues because there are vocals on almost every tune. But not only do they not they detract from the set's appeal, their urgent expressions add to it. While the topical nature of these songs is undeniable, it doesn't mean this isn't a fun record. Quite the opposite. Lara isn't didactic in his lyrics; these are personal observations, and in that way, carry more weight than slogans. His unique compositional style makes them musically irresistible, and compelling. He uses Mexico's and Latin America's folk forms -- cumbias, descargas, sons, corridos, mariachis, bandas, rancheras, cha-chas, rhumbas, pachangas, and more -- and hard welds them to slamming beats, layered melodies, and infectious keyboard grooves, all via a staggering yet organic-sounding mélange of samples from rock & roll, hip-hop, funk, house, disco, techno, etc. Check the wild marimba samples that introduce the melody to "Tipo Raro," which originally appeared in the film Made in Mexico. Lara retains the melody throughout, but busts it from its context; he runs head-on into multi-tracked Farfisa organs, a deeply distressed beat, four-on-the-floor loops, rapping, and a brittle bassline that fires directly from the center. "Especulando" is a driving, funky electro jam. "Es-Toy" uses accordion and darkly tinged double trombones (à la Willie Colón), a pulsing organ, and chanted vocals. Despite its skittering dance beat and its mariachi horns, "Más" is pure, frenetic punk rock. Politico is easily the most sophisticated record in the MIS catalog. This is political music without apology; it's also frenzied dance party music that's virtually peerless. ...full text
Soundsandcolours“México, México, México… Ra Ra Ra.” It has been a busy past few months for the country of México. A recent gold medal in Olympic soccer has lifted many spirits and overshadowed a disappointing presidential election and bump in the road for the famous “Yo Soy 132” movement. The movement, mostly student based, calls attention to the bias of media primarily in the realm of politics. So when, Mexican producer, musician, and mastermind of the Mexican Institute of Sound, Camilo Lara stood up to record his most recent album, Politico, it wasn’t just politics as usual.
A scatter-brained journey, fusing folk and traditional with electronic dance music, Politico experiments with many styles and rhythms. Heavy rock on tracks like “Revolución!” and “Mas!” offer sentiment of anger, while tracks like “Se Baila Así” and “Cumbia Meguro” present the album in a smoother, danceable fashion. This is the fourth release from M.I.S. but differs from the previous three albums in that Politico was recorded with a live studio band, as opposed to editing of loops and samples, and now tours with a band spreading the sounds of México all over the world.
What really sets this album apart are the lyrics and the messages. The founder and creator of M.I.S. is Camilo Lara and recent events in his personal life have influenced the tracks we hear on this album. He was recently featured as a guest DJ on NPR’s Alt. Latino and in an interview with Felix Contreras he talked about a specific event that shaped him and the album. “Imagine one night, next to my house there were helicopters and police, and next door they found 4 tons of explosive C-4, linked to a planned terrorist attack.” Lara explained that the next day he began writing this album. That was over a year ago. Now the album is out and ready for airtime.
The lead track “Politico” begins with a traditional cumbia bass line before wild samples and effects drop over a steady drum line and synthesized keyboard riff. The track builds and peaks, setting the tone for a loud album, as the next track “Especulando” wastes no time in getting in your face and creating a constant buzz in your ear. The album cools off when “México” fades in as brass and chants compliment the outspoken lyrics.
“Es-toy” picks up the pace dropping some serious cumbia tribal and gets those pointy boots moving to some modern Mexican electronica as “Se Baila Así” comes later on and switches the tempo to a more traditional tropical trajectory....full text
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