Chicano Batman are the hottest thing in psychedelic soul right now – or maybe in all of soul music, for that matter. Over the course of their eclectic career, they’ve done everything from noir psychedelia to LA lowrider grooves as well as more tropical sounds. Their latest album Freedom Is Free – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most traditionally 60s soul-oriented, yet with the psychedelic touches they’re best known for. They’re the highlight of a triplebill this Satutday, July 15 at around 5 PM at Central Park Summerstage. A generically dancey band open the afternoon at 3ish; popular 80s Argentine janglerockers Los Pericos headline atfterward if you feel like sticking around for your nostalgia fix .Get there on time if you’re going
The album opens with Passed You By, a gorgeous oldschool soul ballad that sounds like the Zombies covering the Stylistics, with Binky Griptite in elegant mode on lead guitar. The reverb on frontman Bardo Martinez’s organ, backing vocals and echoey guitar fragments add subtle psychedelic touches to the point where the whole is a lot bigger than the sum of its parts – this band is very good at doing that.
Martinez turns up his organ’s roto all the way over drummer Gabriel Villa’s scrambling shuffle groove, like the Soul Brothers with hints of James Brown, in Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm). Angel Child is a real trip: strutting bass, woozy wah guitar, lysergically pulsing Sergeant Pepper textures and a little in-the-pocket James Brown all mashed up together.
Bassist Eduardo Arenas’ snappy drive fuels the album’s sunny title track, while guitarist Carlos Arévalo shows off his elegant Hendrixian chosp on the spiky, psychedleic intro to the understatedly plaintive, Os Mutantes-tinged La Jura, a feast of vintage organ and vintage analog synth textures. All the trick endings raise the surrealism level several notches.
The band balances rapidfire precision – check out Arévalo’s wry wah-wah guitar solo – with a lingering red-sunset atmosphere in Flecha Al Sol. Jealousy is not the creepy Ninth House dirge but an artfully assembled, crescendoing original – is that a weird low-register synth patch, or Arenas’ bass running through a fuzztone pedal? It’s anybody’s guess.
The band follows the delicious jangles and ripples of the bouncy latin funk intro Right Off the Back with Run, a swaying, shapeshifting mini-epic sparkling with blippy organ, flitting congas, mosquito guitar, soaringly orchestrated choruses featuring New York’s own all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache and a couple of unexpectedly balmy organ interludes.
The album’s longest and best track, The Taker Story, is an anti-imperialist broadside, part Isaac Hayes hot butter, part Gil Scott-Heron, with a hazy latin tint. Over a leaping, trickily polyrhythmic groove, Martinez traces many thousand years of colonization and relentless exploitation. “You can’t believe that native people are still around,” Martinez intones with withering sarcasm. The album winds up with the uneasily rippling psych-folk theme Area C. This is going to be the summer jam for an awful lot of people in 2017.