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Sample This Café

Nearly a century ago, Ezra Pound, perhaps the most Modern of the Modern poets, tore up everything that came before him with the battle cry, "Make it new!" Everything that had gone before was just a piss down the drain -- n ot just the poets of yesteryear, but all...
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Nearly a century ago, Ezra Pound, perhaps the most Modern of the Modern poets, tore up everything that came before him with the battle cry, "Make it new!" Everything that had gone before was just a piss down the drain -- n ot just the poets of yesteryear, but all rhymes and devices. Already used, like toilet paper, they could not be used again unless one happened to be very, very dirty. Maybe Pound would have appreciated Café Tacuba, for the Mexican band and the long-gone, bitter, ex-pat poet seem to share that motto. The change between one album and the next, and even between songs on each album by Café Tacuba, has led the American music press to absurd unreal hyperbole; Café Tacuba is the next coming of the Beastie Boys! No wait, the Beatles! Sweet Jesus.

"We wanted to think that it's because we have this desire to change from each record, to experiment and build," guitarist Joselo Rangel says in the stuttering English that comes from knowing the language well but still having to translate from Spanish in one's mind. "We're always compared with bands that change from record to record. Maybe that's why. And Anglo people always think Latin music [is] more tropical and salsa than rock. So that is a reason too. We do not meet expectations."

Signed by Warner Records in 1992, the group has issued five discs in 11 years. Its latest, Cuatro Caminos, was released earlier this year and, as expected, marked another departure for the band. "We think this album has more influence by rock, straight rock, than the others," Rangel says. "The others are more eclectic. They have influence from Mexican folk music. Now we wanted to experiment with rock, just rock. We play for the first time with our real drummer. We invite two drummers [to play on the album]. On other albums, I change from acoustic guitar and other instruments; now I play only electric, and my brother [Enrique "Quique" Rangel] plays only electric bass."

This record marks the first time the band has used live drummers on an album. American rock fans may wince at the use of drum machines, but for Café Tacuba, the lack of a drummer was all part of the plan.

"When we began, we met at art school, and we were very conscious about the concept of the band. We wanted to show our mixture, our mezcla, and we wanted to show that in our instruments," Rangel says. "We wanted to mix acoustic with electronic, and a double bass. All part of the concept. We wanted to look different and make something different. To make some new music, a different look and a different sound. It could be called rock or whatever. We've been touring with a drum machine until this year."

Rangel reports the band is pleased with its experimentation, but he is quick to point out that the live drummer is not necessarily a permanent fixture as is violinist Alejandro Flores, who was added in 1995. "We wanted to see how our instruments relate to each other with somebody playing the drums. Something happened, since the first time we began to play with a drummer. It was because of experimenting, something new. We don't know if we are going to make our next record with a drummer, a drum machine... we don't know what we're going to do."

That would seem to be an assessment of the band's career. These guys don't know what's next. "We don't talk to each other about our ideas when we are touring. Maybe we begin to think about our next album and make some songs, but we don't show each other the ideas. When we meet again after a tour, we do some brainstorming," Rangel says. He repeats the word with a certain sense of self-consciousness before adding, "So we never know what we're going to do in the next album. We all have our different ideas, and we all complement each other in this process of creation."

The newness of every album makes it hard to believe Café Tacuba has put out a record every two years except for the four-year spread between their last album, 1999's Latin Grammy Award-winning Revés/Yo Soy, and Cuatro Caminos. When one considers that the band took a yearlong sabbatical in 2001 and also switched labels between these two records, the wait becomes more understandable. Given the disparity of style and content, one would expect long waits between albums in any case. For now, the harder edge of Cuatro Caminos is the way.

"Our first albums, we wanted to show our culture; to put it in our music," Rangel says. "Now it's more, 'Now we know where we are, we have our culture, let's make something different.' Rock has more energy and is direct to the people."

Bogged down with the numbing sameness of sugary pop and guttural nu metal, American music fans and journalists are constantly in search of The Next Big Thing. In Mexico, they've already found it. It's a good thing rock en español still has a modicum of that innocent-yet-crazy factor that died a long time ago up north. Cause up here in the States, they don't make 'em like that anymore, and they sure as hell don't make it new.

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