Tue, Jul 17, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Classical CD reviews

LIDERES, by Wisin Yandel.

LIDERES, Wisin Yandel, Machete

For the Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel, going worldwide is a careful, short-yardage game of rhythm and language. Twelve years after they started making scrappy reggaeton records, they’re still inching toward pop omnipresence. But in the last few years the sands have shifted. The route has become clearer for acts like them, as well as for them specifically, and Lideres (“Leaders”), their ninth studio album, is their biggest push toward the pop mainstream.

A heavy application of electronic dance-music rhythm and texture can now provide a boost to any pop genre. Pitbull, the Cuban-American rapper and producer, has spent the last few years bulldozing express routes among European techno, hip-hop and Latin pop, while Jennifer Lopez, who has some control over English-speaking media through her role on American Idol, brought Wisin y Yandel on to the season closer of that show in May to promote her new bilingual collaboration with them, Follow the Leader.

Follow the Leader is the lead single on Lideres, and as a whole the record is almost mathematically balanced between gaining ground (which essentially means softening) and keeping their old, hard authority. In words and music, it’s about the dance floor as much as about the bedroom. It retains just enough of their earlier music’s basic rhythms — as well as the sexual aggression — but it’s tempered with other ingredients, more so than any of their past records.

Yandel’s singing has gradually grown more melodic and romantic, even through heavy layers of Autotune; Wisin still raps in his straight eighth-note, nail-gun bark, but more of the time he’s riding milder rhythms now.

About a third of the songs here — including both bilingual tracks, Follow the Leader and Algo Me Gusta de Ti, with a Chris Brown verse-vocal and a 16-bar T-Pain rap — are in straight four-four dance-pop rhythm, minus the lurching Antillean beat of reggaeton. Some, including Una Bendicion and No Te Detengas go in for cartoonish, woozy, saturated synthesizer tones; otherwise, instant pan-Latinisms are achieved by synthesizer presets that sound like accordion, wood-flute and nylon-string guitar. Parts of some tracks wouldn’t be out of place on records by Pitbull, Shakira or even LMFAO. And Vengo Acabando is a reggaeton take on none other than Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams — a dance and radio hit that long ago went global in a way that perhaps this group would like to.

— Ben Ratliff, NY Times News Service

TUCSON, Giant Giant Sand, Fire

An amiable improbability has sustained Howe Gelb’s band Giant Sand since 1983. Based in Tucson, Giant Sand grounds its music in the country-and-Mexican heritage of the Southwest, although the longtime core of the band hails from Denmark, and Gelb has, through the years, dipped into flamenco, psychedelic rock, punk and other noisy whims.

For Tucson, Gelb added six more musicians to the band — hence the renamed Giant Giant Sand — including a Mexican-American contingent that provides more direct connections to cumbia, bolero and mariachi. He also strung a story line through 19 songs, enough to subtitle the album “A Country Rock Opera” and to supply a detailed visual and psychological scenario in the liner notes.

It’s a tale of wanderings through surreal desert landscapes, of romance lost and found, of nature and fate and of the ways they all mirror one another: “You’re so much like the river, beautiful twisted and blue/You appear to be here forever, but really just passing through,” Gelb sings at the end of the album.

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