always wished I had written Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but after submerging myself in the floating history of the Buendias, I couldn’t pick up another book for weeks. I couldn’t write. The rainforest heat of his simple prose and the novel’s mystical subversion of time left me lamenting my own useless efforts. I imagine, if I were a musician, I would feel this same impotence after listening to Café Tacuba’s Cuatro Caminos.
In the past, Café Tacuba has been an insider’s band, the sort name-dropped by record store clerks and vintage-clothes shoppers. Their helter skelter mixture of eccentric sonic experiments and more direct pop songs on albums like Reves/Yosoy could never overcome the fact that the lyrics, where they existed, were in Spanish. With Cuatro Caminos, this is no longer an issue. One of Mexico’s most exhilarating bands has finally nudged their way into our Anglo centric hearts to stay. Yes, we will be mesmerized, and we need not understand a word of what’s been done to us.
They’ve enlisted Dave Fridmann for aid in the album’s production, and his contributions never distract from the album’s rambunctious fervor. The cracked whimsy that bleeps and clicks underneath these seemingly guileless rock songs craves headphones and repeat listens, and lead singer Elfego Buendia’s voice contorts itself into whichever frenzied shape these songs require. Winding through Tex-Mex punk, nocturnal torch songs, and classic blues-rock shuffles, to touch upon only a few of the sounds on this clever masterpiece, Cuatro Caminos requires no translation; Café Tacuba’s is a cackle that renders language barriers meaningless.
“Eo” rambles in with a loose guitar shuffle and electronic blurts, a twisted “Wooly Bully” for the strait-jacket set. The gasps, quiet breathing, and various whistles settle its harsh guitar lines down a bit, but it still burns and heaves for two sharp minutes.
“Eres” opens with a throbbing electronic bassline and Mexican balladeer-style folk guitar, and Buendia’s vocals are pushed up against Fridmann’s static hush. His voice is exploratory and haunting; his cries reverberate off the brooding silence in the background, summoning shadowy images of nightfall in the desert.
As the album coasts through its first half, “Encantamiento Inutil” begins a series of four sublimely vaporous tracks that certify the album’s genius. This is where you realize its place in your future. Soft whipping electrodrums emerge from the previous track, like a cantina door flapping from the wind, and Buendia comes at you from above. It simmers and hums until the drums finally punch through and raise it to a forlorn sand dune jam.
“Recuerdo Prestado” is as close to the Clash as this album gets. The threatening piano line and Buendia’s direct, fist-clenched delivery permit no retreat. It has a way of encircling you in the dark.
The menace subsides into “Puntos Cardinales,” an empyrean ode for the indie-dancer. Chiming with electronics and Buendia’s near falsetto, it spurts into a Tijuana disco strut that makes you shake the sand from your shoes. Academic assessment be damned; this magical stomp requires my silence and who am I to refuse.
With its stiff bassline and distant electric piano, “Desperte” is an ephemeral vision. Fridmann perfects his sense of surrealism here, making more out of dark-room hand drums and the slow inhalations between verses than would be possible with the most avant-garde production.
Cuatro Caminos can soothe as quickly as it stuns, and it manages a kind of doppelganger duality more expertly than any album that springs to mind. It will unquestionably top the lists of many critics in the coming weeks, but for me it’s more significant to think that when the rains have cleared, the Buendias from Solitude would have welcomed this Buendia and his band into their seclusion.