February 10, 2002

Viva Las Vegas "Viva Las Vegas"

Now, here's an interesting situation.

For years, bands like Calexico and Giant Sand have been blending indie rock with a definite hint of Latino culture, to grand results. With a hint of Morricone, and a whole lot of desert, these groups have been making moody, yet definitly spicy, music. Their style, borrowing from the best of two worlds, is uniquely their own. What happens, then, when you have a band from Spain that makes exactly the same kind of music?

It is a most interesting conundrum.

Viva Las Vegas, like Calexico, is a duo, Jose Luis García and Frank Rudow, who are also members of Manta Ray. Both members share duties in playing all of the instruments, so the music is rather varied, yet consistant in its vision. Unlike Calexico, Viva Las Vegas doesn't coat itself in the mariachi-meets-Nino Rota instrumentation. Occasionally, as on "Estaré de paso," they will slip in a guitar line that sounds not unlike Modest Mouse, but thankfully they never sound like Modest Mouse. Since nearly all of the songs are sung in Spanish, and as I never really paid much attention in Spanish class in high school, I really couldn't tell you what these fellows are saying.

Fortunatly, you don't have to be bilingual to appreciate the music on Viva Las Vegas. From the opening buzz of "Corazón sano," you realize that the next forty-five minutes will be a warm, hazy, hash-smoked affair. Rudow and García
are in no particular hurry, and as such, Viva Las Vegas is a very smooth-sounding record; it's in no rush to reach the end, and you can tell that Rudow and García have no desire to overwhelm their music with complexities. The only complaint I have with Viva Las Vegas is that when Garcí sings in English, those comparisons to Calexico come rushing back in, and, indeed, they do come off as sounding like a Calexico-influenced indie band. Oh, wait, they probably are, and, as their are indeed worse bands to emulate, it's not a real problem after all.

Viva Las Vegas is the kind of record that I know would be enjoyed by the collegiate indie-rock crowd. You know the type--likes Will Oldham, digs Modest Mouse, and thinks that (smog)'s Bill Callahan has some interesting things to say. For once, though, the hipsters will be right about the music they like, and I'll be listening, too. Well worth the extra effort in seeking out, Viva Las Vegas is a quietly lovely little album.

--Joseph Kyle

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