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CAFE TACUBA (Buy CDs by this artist)
Cafe Tacuba (Mex. WEA Latina) 1992
Re (Mex. WEA Latina) 1994
Vale Callampa (MCA) 2002

In America and England, where new wave is just another flavor of nostalgia, bands that make music with those values can't escape the taint of parody or contrived style-mongering. In Mexico, however, the energetic sound of early-'80s jumparound music hasn't yet lost its currency, and offbeat rockers like Caifanes and Cafe Tacuba can still rev up cheesy organ and skittery ska rhythms without making an issue of it. Fronted by flamboyant brat singer Cosme (aka Juan; his given name is Rubén Albarrán), who shapes his fire-red hair into devil horns, the un-self-conscious and eclectic quartet from Mexico City makes a pan-cultural game of rock en español, throwing hip-hop, acoustic pop, romantic balladry, ranchera, mariachi, funk, new wave and whatever happens across the radar screen into the mix on the infectious Cafe Tacuba. The instrumentation switches as often as the tempos — piano, melodica, string bass, acoustic and electric guitars, synthesizers and percussion (as well as accordion by Flaco Jiménez and trumpet) all shape the whimsical songs — but Cosme's melodramatic delivery is what holds the energetic party together. Pick hit (for its dead-catchy chorus): "Noche Oscura" ("Dark Night").

Re is a far more ambitious undertaking, as a dozen guests help the newly politicized Cafe Tacuba through a musical funhouse that yanks open doors to reveal an endless array of idioms and traditions. The band shifts gears repeatedly, often within songs: "El Ciclinto" is a wild Sly Stone/Beatles/Plastic Bertrand/Manfred Mann/Sugarcubes mix-and-match. "El Borrego" goes for a distorted Ministry-like techno kill, while "Ixtepec" can only be called flamenco house, "El Metro" is pop-funk, "El Fin de la Infancia" is speedy mariachi, "Pez" is spare pop and "Las Flores" bounces to a ska beat. "El Baile y el Salón" quotes Labelle; "La Pinta" rips a mighty electric guitar hole. Making eclectic unpredictability its strong stylistic statement, Re amazingly holds together.

[Ira Robbins]