In Peru, Chicha Libre are considered to be one of the alltime great bands in the tradition of chicha music (otherwise known as cumbia sicodelica, the twangy Peruvian surf rock whose worldwide renaissance Chicha Libre and their little label, Barbes Records, singlehandedly spearheaded). That’s pretty much the same thing as being ranked as good as the Beatles in Liverpool or on par with Biggie Smalls in Bed-Stuy. Not bad for a band from Park Slope, Brooklyn. On April 11 at 9:30 PM, New York’s most deliriously fun live band celebrate the release of their new third album Cuatro Tigres at Joe’s Pub; tix are $15 and still available as of today. The whole album is streaming at the band’s Soundcloud page.
To give you an idea of how good this album is, consider that Chicha Libre’s previous two releases were ranked among the top five albums of the year at this blog and its predecesssor, and that this one is much the same even though it only has four songs on it, all covers. Chicha Libre frontman Olivier Conan describes it as the band coming full circle with their influences: the Clash, and especially Joe Strummer, for his role in bringing third-world sounds into rock; Arthur Lee and Love, arguably the trippiest band ever; Peruvian chicha heroes Los Shapis, who are still active and have joined Chicha Libre onstage in Peru; and the Simpsons, which is as popular with tv audiences throughout Latin America as it is here.
The first song on this album is Guns of Brixton. It’s an interesting choice, a reggae tune written not by Strummer but by bassist Paul Simonon (who would play guitar on it in concert, with Strummer switching to bass). This version is trippy to the extreme, keyboardist Josh Camp’s blippy layers offering a woozy nod to this era’s electronic cumbia, Conan’s vocals gleefully anticipating the day when the 99% get back everything we’ve worked for.
Not surprisingly, the best song on the album is Los Shapis’ Rica Chica, a wickedly catchy, chromatically bristling, luridly surreal and sexy theme driven by Vincent Douglas’ precise yet practically unhinged Telecaster and Camp’s offcenter wah-wah Hohner Electrovox (an early synth in an accordion body). Love’s Alone Again Or wasn’t a hit for that band: it would have to wait nearly 20 years before the Damned covered it, not badly. This version is more laid-back and summery, grounded by Neil Ochoa’s congas and Nicholas Cudahy’s subtly undulating bass, Karina Colis’ timbales throwing off a shower of sparks on the turnaround.
When the Simpsons’ producers asked Chicha Libre to record a chicha version of the show’s theme for their 20th anniversary episode, Chicha Libre jumped at the chance. Their cover (titled La Danza De Los Simpsons) takes a lot of liberties, slowing it down with a funhouse-mirror dubwise edge, reinventing it as an ominous minor-key cartoon-face hit of blotter acid. As New York rock albums go, this one’s essential. Then again, that could be said about everything this band has ever done. And they play Barbes just about every Monday night at around 9:45 when they’re not on tour.