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Los de Abajo

Mexico City's Los de Abajo is a good, old-fashioned, ideologically in-your-face punk band. Case in point: "Screw," in which the downtrodden come with a confrontational politics that exposes the death-squad/drug-dealer thug as the face of the government on the ground. All this is set to a rapid-fire, ska-flavored beat -- except upon closer inspection, the ska turns out to be a merengue. The album as a whole shows such enthusiasm for traditional rhythms, bouncing from cumbia to rocksteady to norteña, that it's hard to imagine Los de Abajo staying locked into one approach for long. The performances are so urgent and the richly layered arrangements so aggressive that this feels like the music of the moment and, perhaps, the future. In a phrase, salsa out of bounds.

What makes Los de Abajo even more appealing, though, is the personal nature of their songwriting, churning out one moving vocal after another. The human condition is captured as individual moments of heartbreak, loneliness, and even madness, but the hopeful moments shine all the brighter for it. On "That Place Does Exist," the singers' call-and-response vocals take on a Pentecostal ecstasy as the song's utopian vision takes shape. The norteña/ska of "Go On, Rise Up" is so frenzied, it's giddy and, if you take its advice, even liberating. Remember when those words used to describe punk?

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Danny Alexander

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