Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Area 52 : Rodrigo y Gabriela

This is not an album. It’s an assault. It’s an assault by a troop of incredibly deft musicians taking everything they’ve got and charging forward with all the zest and dexterity they can muster.

And some how, there’s that danger that Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album, Area 52, might wind up in a bin somewhere under the label “World” music.

That’s in no way a dis on the genre, but rather a lament that broader American audiences don’t generally take to popular music from abroad. Unless it’s British. That’s a shame, because Area 52 in many ways represents that “melting pot” ideal we sling around.

Case in point: Rodrigo y Gabriela are a pair of Mexican musicians, flamenco guitarists, specifically, who first made it big in Ireland, playing on the streets of Dublin outside of pubs. On their third album, Area 52, they forgo their typical two-some of intricate acoustic guitar work in favor of exploring Cuban music and playing with a 13-piece mini-orchestra aptly named C.U.B.A. The album features everything from Cuban folk to salsa, blended with jazz, backed by sitar, run through wah-wah pedals, and oh, did I mention they were in a metal band?

While that all may sound like a mess, it’s not. It’s an exhausting (in a good way) emersion in polyrhythms and an enveloping and gregarious sound born of a culture that is itself, enveloping and gregarious.

Take “Hanuman.” It’s relentless– bursts of Santana-esque guitar, fast jazz piano and a jabbing horn section, spinning around. Every instrument, every beat, every little piece of influence are held together, but just so, right up to the breaking point where everything should fall apart, but it doesn’t.

Area 52 is somewhat of a departure for Rodrigo y Gabriela because of all the extra accompaniment. While it is more difficult to get the full effect the duo’s guitar playing, nine of the songs on the album are featured on earlier albums in their original bare arrangements. “11:11,” for example, is the title of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s previous album, but the track is fleshed out and re-arranged to fit C.U.B.A.

In 1999, David Byrne wrote a piece in the New York Times about why he hates world music. To start, he talked about the odds and ends that make up a world music bin– it’s the stuff that “just isn’t ‘us.” He summed it up saying “exotica is beautiful but irrelevant.”

A record like Area 52 that’s such a synthesis of styles, techniques and influences says most about a world where cultural isolation is becoming less feasible and less desirable. The sounds on Area 52 are definitely exotic, they’re anything but irrelevant.

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