Art by definition is subversive since it mirrors society’s downside as well as its upside, a secret that authoritarian regimes would prefer not to share (the Taliban outlawing music in Afghanistan, for example). By that standard, Ani Cordero’s new album Querido Mundo (Dear World), streaming at Soundcloud, is as transgressive as music can get in 2017. Not only because it’s extremely accessible, and the multi-instrumentalist bandleader’s Spanish-language lyrics tackle all kinds of controversial issues, but also because it’s one of the best rock records released this year. Cordero and her band are playing tonight, April 9 at 7:30 PM at Subrosa in the Meatpacking District. It’s a funny little club: most of the seating is on the staircase on the way down to the bar, where there are no sightlines, so it makes sense to get there in time. Cover is $10.
Cordero has a formidable list of credits beginning with her turn behind the drums in an early-zeros configuration of space-surf legends Man or Astroman. After that, she drummed for legendary downtown art-rockers Bee & Flower before switching to guitar in Cordero, her own enigmatically jangly indie group. At the same time, she was part of the considerably more politically-fueled, similarly jangly Pistolera.
But her latest material is her best. Her previous album, Recordar (Remember) reinvented protest songs from across the decades and the Americas. The new one is all originals. Her band is killer: Erich Hubner provides both Man or Astroman-style surf guitar and bass; Eileen Willis plays keys and accordion, with Lisette Santiago on percussion and Omar Akil Little on trumpet.
The bouncy ranchera-rock opening track, Corrupcion, mocks nickel-and-dime nepotism and greed in Puerto Rico but on a global level as well, Hubner’s savagely bluesy guitar solo giving way to a more hopeful one from Little. Awash in lingering reverb guitar, Alma Vieja (Old Soul) is a haunting southwestern gothic anthem, akin to Giant Sand covering the Church with more nuanced vocals than either of those groups. Likewise, Me Tumba addresses police brutality over a loping desert rock groove.
The tricky syncopation of the gentle, wistful, accordion-spiced immigrant anthem Voy Caminando harks back to Cordero’s indie rock work in the zeros. Over a gently insistent clave beat, the salsa-tinged Sacalo is a shot of encouragement for any woman trying to escape an abusive relationship. There’s similar hope in the gently lilting Pienses en Mi (Believe in Me).
The starkly pulsing El Pueblo Esta Harto (The People Won’t Take It) references Los 43, the forty-three Mexican student protestors abducted and murdered by government thugs in 2014. It wouldn’t be out of place on the Joe Strummer songbook.
Growling surf bass contrasts with spare Spanish guitar and ominously reverberating electric riffage in Culebra (Snake). The recurrent mantra is “Leave me here” – it’s the album’s most understatedly impactful and haunting track.The album’s catchiest, most anthemic cut is Dominas Mis Suenos (You Take Over My Dreams), part 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk, part surf rock. Little’s trumpet flutters above a spiky web of guitars on the brightly resolute mariachi-flavored Vida Atrevida (Living Fearlessly), a challenge for dangerous times. The album winds up with the bittersweet Luto Por Nuestro Amor (Requiem for Our Love) and its blend of starry spacerock and saturnine desert-rock suspense.
Is Cordero – an American citizen with Puerto Rican roots – afraid of reprisals from the Trumpites? No. Her view is that it’s time for everyone with a voice to stand up for what’s right. Other songwriters ought to do the same. And they are – keep an eye on this page.