Chico Trujillo are Chile’s #1 party band – they play soccer stadiums there, where this album has probably already gone oro. Currently on their first American tour, they make their New York debut on June 12 at La Oveja Negra in Astoria and then at Barbes with Chicha Libre on June 13. They spun off of popular punk band La Floripondio, but the undercurrent here isn’t rock, it’s ska – although they play cumbia, the one-two punch of Sebastian Cabezas’ trumpet and Luis Tabilo’s trombone gives the songs here a boisterously oldschool Studio One flavor. There are a lot of different types of cumbias, just like reggae, the genre it most closely resembles and may inevitably eclipse as the world’s most popular party music. Chico Trujillo play pretty much all of them.
They’re kind of like a bigger band version of Chicha Libre (their Barbes Records labelmates), with a slinky groove, twangy reverb guitar and eerie, trebly organ, but more lush arrangements. Likewise, a lot of the songs are mostly instrumental, some of them limited to just vocals on the chorus. The lyrics, such as they have them, are funny, whether kibitzing on the oldschool Conductor, the gonzo vaudeville of La Cosecha de Mujeres (Harvest of Women), the self-explanatory Loca (Crazy Woman) or No Me Busques (Don’t Go Looking for Me).
As it setttles into a slinky, hypnotic sway, the album’s opening track hints that it’s going to go completely noir, but it doesn’t – it’s closer to the psychedelic soundtrack sound that guys like Lee Hazlewood were mining in the late 60s, welded to a vintage Jamaican undercurrent. But guitarist Michael Magliocchetti gets the chance to surf out in tandem with the organ on the boisterous second cut; the third track incorporates echoes of hip-hop along with a rich, lush organ crescendo toward the end. Pollera Amarilla (Chicken Farmer) sends trumpet soaring over that classic, swaying groove, guitar and percussion rattling and cackling ominously in the background. A couple of other songs have a 60s rocksteady feel and happy horns; La Escoba (Sweep) is straight-up ska-punk; Lanzaplatos is a noir bolero rocker, and Los Sabanales sounds like a hyperspeed Mexican ranchera ballad. South America has a long tradition of fertile cross-pollination, which explains why these guys have so many flavors that it’s hard to keep track. The only miss here is a tongue-in-cheek cover of a Marc Anthony hit that’s so awful that even an inspired performance by pretty much everybody in the band can’t redeem it. The album clocks in at almost an hour, with fifteen tracks – they sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live.