The San Francisco band Pepito -- comprised of Ana Machado and José Márquez, with help from Brian Fraser and Chris Palmatier -- isn't afraid to poke fun at its eccentricities. For instance, in the middle of the jerky electro-pop tune "Salyut," Márquez sings, "I don't get it/This song is about a Soviet cosmonaut with a really thick French accent/But the whole time, she's singing in Spanish!" The self-referential stab demonstrates Pepito's penchant for indie-rock irony; at the same time, Márquez's glaring interruption of an already unstable song -- barely pieced together from guitar, drum machine, and synthesizer bleeps -- shows how little regard the act has for established pop molds.
That's not to say that Pepito's debut full-length album, Migrante, has no tuneful appeal. The opening song, "Terapia," strings together hook after hook, fitting more memorable chord changes into four minutes than many bands squeeze into an entire EP. But for every number this catchy, Pepito throws a wrench into the works: "Little Brown Baby," for instance, pairs the muscular guitars of indie rock with the dot-matrix whir of electronica, happily throwing all sense of continuity out the window.
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Machado and Márquez -- who hail from Tijuana and Havana, respectively -- sing mainly in Spanish, but they've no intention of fitting into the Latin pop or rock en español styles. The band's sound is way too experimental and intimate for those movements' arena-rock inclinations. Numerous songs shine a light on a deeply personal sphere, as when Machado reads from a love letter to Márquez on "New Wave": "I hope you like this tape I made/Because this music is our world/I love you and I'll never let you go." Singing in their native tongue is a part of this intimacy, a politics of the personal that reflects the reality of early-21st-century California, in which Latinos are the official ethnic majority. Whereas listeners all over the world have been bombarded by American culture for years, learning the words to songs without even knowing the language, Migrante offers this same sense of displacement to English speakers. Instead of simply inviting us to cross borders -- an overused metaphor in a globalizing world -- Pepito dissolves them altogether, with verve, grit, and, above all, a loving touch.