I Heard The Best Party ...

Follow-up to the band's critically acclaimed 1994 debut.

"La Bamba"? Not even close. Only the hopelessly out-of-touch still

associate Los Lobos with their Ritchie Valens cover and mild roots rock.

As the members of Los Lobos push 50, they only get stranger, more

experimental and -- not coincidentally -- better with each release.

They first cracked open their sound on Kiko (1992), tossing

together unusual rhythms and instruments, forging a new identity that

was wider and wilder than that dictated by traditional conceptions of

roots music. But Latin Playboys (1994), a side project made up of

lead Lobos David Hidalgo and Louie Perez and producers Mitchell Froom

and Tchad Blake, was the real turning point. The Latin Playboys pushed

the experiments even further, tossing in the kitchen sink quite

literally. Recorded late at night on a 4-track in Hidalgo's kitchen, the

Latin Playboys album was a concoction of otherworldly fragments,

found sounds, haunting melodies and hand-made instrumentals that washed

ashore like an artifact from another dimension. Its bold collage

soundscapes made Kiko sound merely eclectic by comparison.

Five years later, the Latin Playboys are back with Dose, the

unexpected follow-up to an album that seemed destined to be a one-off.

Unlike its somewhat subdued predecessor, Dose sounds like a

raucous block party, an east L.A. barrio throwdown where the sound

system is an old boom box with a blown speaker that sounds great anyway.

The party is overflowing with vendors selling flavored ice shaved off a

block, kids begging their parents for rides to the drive-in, lovers

feeling the music's low note rumble, neighborhood legends who claim they

can wrap the world up in chicken wire before the night is through.

It's a fool's game to try and sum up the Latin Playboys' sound in a

quick phrase. They always come up with the unexpected, and even song

titles like "Fiesta Erotica" are misleading. That instrumental begins

the album with a wash of sculpted distortion, a drum machine programmed

to sound like a garbage can (or vice-versa), and soaring, spiraling

guitars. The next track, "Cuba's Blues," isn't blues but a gently

throbbing cinematic narrative shot through with raw slabs of fuzz

guitar. The title song is a sobering mix of junkyard percussion and

backward tape loops with a distant voice advising, "When you die/ and

they take you and they put you in the ground/ No matter who and what you

are/ you end up looking brown."

Things don't stay grim for long. "Paletero" is a carnival of looped

sounds anchored by a savage jackhammer beat. Guitars and roller-rink

organs chase each other while Hildalgo shouts a mix of Spanish and

English lyrics. "Nubian Princess" takes the sort of beat and wa-wa

keyboard riff that Beck would polish into a pop hit and lets them melt

down in the sun. "Lemon 'N' Ice" is a tender lover's plea with minimal

accompaniment and backing vocals by Wendy and Lisa.

Each song contributes something different, and despite its eclecticism

and off-the-cuff feel, Dose hangs together brilliantly. It's more

song-oriented than the first album, but the main focus remains on the

groove. The furious beats on songs like "Paletero" and "Locoman" even

recall techno in their intensity and complexity, though they have an

earthier feel.

The album's greatest accomplishment is that for all its avant-garde

gestures, the music feels as populist as it does cutting-edge. The party

the Latin Playboys throw occasionally evokes Cuban dancehalls, East

Village lounges and Southern juke joints, but it never stops seducing

you with new possibilities, inviting you into spaces you never dreamed

possible.