La Vela Puerca

Latin ska bands suck. Actually, all modern ska bands suck, period, and they suck in Spanish, English, and Croatian. Early Fabulosos Cadillacs and a few other post-Specials byproducts notwithstanding, the "refreshing" ska movement is as imaginative as the best of the middle-class, white, one-hit-wonder rasta bands that tend to disappear faster than you can say, "Haile Selassie was a dictator."

Unless, of course, they can write songs.

Sebastián Teysera, vocalist and main songwriter of Uruguayan eight-piece ska (and more) combo La Vela Puerca ("The Huge Joint"), can write songs. And La Vela Puerca couldn't care less about the Specials; their main influence is Spain's Extremoduro, the best band you'll never hear. Part folk, part punk, part ska, and part murga, they're politically correct, but their social critique is both biting and gentle, both dead serious and humorous -- and never pretentious. At their most punkish, La Vela shows a constructive fury: "I wake up in the morning/I look for the sun under my bed/We know life is hard/But bitterness is not the solution," they sing in "Mañana," a fast-driving explosion of a song. But it's in its murga extreme that the band awakens both the devil and the angel in you at the same time. In "José Sabía," la Vela makes a toast to "the pleasure of winning and losing," which is "the good thing about pain," wrapping it up with a loud "when things seem fucked up, it's time to show your balls." Exactly.

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