Short Cuts

Not all of Singles catches fire, but most of it sparks. With such intriguing recordings, Loverly may help establish Memphis as an indie-rock mecca. Stranger things have happened. In fact they seem to happen in Memphis all the time.

-- John Lewis

Chichi Peralta y Son Familia
Pa' Otro La'o
(Caiman Records)

Just when you thought there were no more interesting ways to write a Latin love song, along come Chichi Peralta y Son Familia, who demonstrate that doing things the old-fashioned way -- harnessing well-wrought lyrics to traditional rhythms -- is the best way. Peralta developed his Latin pop chops during an eight-year stint as the percussionist for Juan Luis Guerra y 4:40, one of the world's most commercially successful merengue bands, and has now rallied his own formidable group of musicians and songwriters in Son Familia.

On Pa' Otro La'o (To the Other Side), his debut album for Caiman Records, Peralta assumes the arrangement and production duties. The result is a disc that taps the rhythmic mines of the Caribbean to find the mythic depths of the love song. At the same time, this music swings with such seductive force that it could easily find a home in any nightclub or cruisemobile's stereo system.

Pa' Otro La'o ranges from world beat to disco beat. "Amor Narcotico" is like a cannonball of love shot out of a tropical fortress of rhythm. Though the track begins with a delicately fingered acoustic guitar, the naive timbre of Jandy Feliz's alto pipes, and the wispy adornment of the London Symphony Orchestra, it quickly explodes into a pop merengue. That's just one of the album's many surprises. Others include an African-tinged call-and-response on "Un Dia Mas," a nod to dance-club nightlife on "Techno Son," and a reggae rhythm on "La Ciguapa" (which pays homage to a woman who is as tasty as a cigua fruit). The happy-go-lucky title track finds its counterpoint in brokenhearted lyrics, while "Un Dia Mas" is a song of unrequited love brought to sorrowful depths by Chichi's deft blending of African and Pakistani rhythms.

These Latin love songs are feel-good music at its best. Peralta knows how to light up the bulbs of the highbrows with his savvy production skills -- and still stir things up from the waist down.

-- Victor Cruz

Lotion
(SpinArt)

Dwelling in a sub-counter-pop culture in which Pavement is passe and trashy TV shows are tres hip, the band Lotion is practically soaking in its own coolness. Lotion got the reclusive novelist Thomas Pynchon to write the liner notes for its second album, Nobody's Cool. In 1996 the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in Manhattan included the band's stickers and posters in an exhibit. This past January, Lotion made a cameo appearance in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Such hijinks have made Lotion the darling of the college-educated, indie-rock crowd. But all gimmickry aside, these four sly New Yorkers -- Tony Zajkowski on vocals, Jim Ferguson on guitar, Rob Youngberg on drums, and Bill Ferguson on bass -- create some of the snappiest, freshest, most appealing pop songs around.

In fact there's no reason Lotion couldn't fit into a radio playlist along with the Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, or even Third Eye Blind. "Mr. President" is a harmony-driven, grunge-rock number with a chugging guitar riff, "Feedback Queen" rides along on a sunny chorus, and "Drop Dead" boasts one of those great stuttering refrains ("C-C-Californ-i-ay"). For the most part, these twelve songs are the kind that jump right into the unconscious and cause involuntary head-nodding and perhaps even air-guitar-playing. Even the brief excursions into indie-rock experimentation are built around good hooks. "My Name Is Prince" -- perhaps a nod to The Artist who inspired the glyphlike title of this CD -- is edgy and rhythmic, but the backing vocals and ringing guitar still make for a hummable tune. With Zajkowski's earnest, gutsy voice leading the band, Lotion might be mistaken for any number of commercial rock outfits like Everclear or Creed.

But Lotion likes to play with convention ever so slightly. In the middle of the melodic "Rich Cop, Poor Cop," Lotion briefly turns itself into an '80s metal band accompanied by the sound of screaming concertgoers. "I Love Me (Vol. 1)" incorporates an alarm clock, disembodied laughter, and a bullwhip and ends with a distinctly Beatlesque chorus. The band's lyrics are sometimes archly postmodern (alluding to everything from Steve McQueen to the musical Chess), but they can also be emotionally powerful. "No. 99" is a particularly affecting song, hinting at an illicit love affair. "Be careful what you say/She reads your writing," Zajkowski warns. "You play astronaut/And I'm a pirate/She's already heard/Though we keep quiet."

Lotion is probably a little too clever for mainstream FM radio, so don't expect to hear "5th Fret - Distant Cousin" on anyone's playlist soon. Still, the band has achieved an appropriately underground sort of fame: The idiot savant singer Wesley Willis recently recorded an homage to the band, titled "Lotion Are Assholes."

-- Rafer Guzman

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