Los Lobos 1992 masterpiece Kiko was/is the Pet Sounds/Smile of Latin music. To mark the album’s 20th anniversary, Los Lobos’ will play it from beginning to end tonight at the Keswick. We can hardly wait.
RELATED: Just as Brian Eno became an aural architect for Talking Heads’ new sound, Los Lobos began a collaborative partnership with producer Mitchell Froom and engineer Tchad Blake that crafted sounds for Kiko that simmer and undulate. As the band and recording team have related, when it came to instrumentation and recording techniques, nothing was off the table, be it running guitars through cheap, pawnshop amps or placing mics down drainpipes or in trash cans to capture the desired sounds.
Kiko’s most distinctive tracks are built on a pioneering hi-fi/lo-fi foundation, a sacred-and-profane confluence of sweet sounds (accordion, harp) with corrosive distortion and mystifying instrumentation. On the album’s indelible title song, a sinister “Three Blind Mice” theme plays with the wobbly horn-like tones of a Chamberlain, over ominous bass notes on the piano, as preface to a buoyant accordion-and-guitar melody, evoking the Mexican cumbia David Hidalgo originally envisioned when writing the music. Louie Pérez’ lyrics for “Kiko and the Lavender Moon” are as impressionistic as the Japanese renga poetry he had been studying at the time. As sung by Hidalgo over a percolating backdrop of swirling instrumentation, the verses suggest dreaming as well as a waking detachment from reality. Just as the music refuses to be bound by a single style, the lyrics provide hints at what they intend while suggesting a myriad of interpretations.
On the equally striking and unique “Saint Behind the Glass,” a plucked harp delicately etches a lilting, 6/8, son jarocho-flavored reverie. Taking a rare turn as lead vocalist, Pérez sings impressionistically of domestic and religious imagery, of (presumably) St. Joseph, the patron of carpenters and Christ’s adoptive father, watching over a family as they sleep, cry, and simply live. There is no deep message here, merely an affirmation that you may be comforted by the presence of the saints in your life, whether or not you acknowledge them. The mystical, mildly hallucinogenic atmosphere of these two songs, back-to-back on the album, is unlike anything Los Lobos, or many of their contemporaries, had attempted. MORE