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Crisper and more mature, Calle 13 returns with politically−charged album, ‘Entren Los Que Quieran’

Album Review | 4 out of 5 stars

Published: Monday, December 6, 2010

Updated: Monday, December 6, 2010 07:12

A joke between brothers almost never leads to a career, but Calle 13 have managed to make it work. Created by stepbrothers René Pérez Joglar, aka Residente (Resident) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez, aka Visitante (Visitor), Calle 13 has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success. Prior to the Nov. 22 release of their fourth album, "Entre Los Que Quieran," the brothers had already won two Grammy Awards and 10 Latin Grammy Awards.

The duo claims to have begun as a joke, but quickly rose to public prominence during the mixing of their debut album. Public controversy surrounding Calle 13's song "Querido F.B.I." ("Dear F.B.I."), a controversial track about the death of Puerto Rican revolutionary Filiberto Ojeda Ríos during an FBI arrest, gave the band mainstream media attention after viral marketing of the song through Indymedia Puerto Rico, an alternative news website.

Calle 13 is quick to reject their frequent classification as reggaeton, but all other options considered, this classification is quite frankly the only one that makes any sense. Though reggaeton may provide the basis for Calle 13 as a band, Visitante's background as a full−time musician and producer lets him eagerly weave in enough different genres to make Calle 13 a different beast from anything the listener has ever heard before.

The band believes "Entren Los Que Quieran" ("Enter Those Who Wish") is its most mature album to date. Given the carefully thought−out crafting of the songs and the crisp vocal structures, this is true.

The album is also noticeably more political than the group's previous releases, and it addresses issues ranging from the Pope to Sony music to Mexican drug cartels with rapid fire, acerbically witty lyrics.

The duo may not escape criticism for sexually charged wordplay or feisty political lyrics, but at least they are consistent. The bluntness, and occasional offensiveness, of their lyrics extends to all subject areas. Indeed, the brothers apply the same wit and blatant honesty to any situation they are writing about, whether addressing military coups or girls on the street. The album contains infusions of pop rock, hard rock, ska, hip−hop, jazz, electronica, rap and salsa, but somehow manages to come off as effectively unified. The album even manages to avoid alienating non−Spanish speakers such as myself, who can fully appreciate the rhythm and intonations of the language, even if they miss many of the lyrical nuances.

Part of "Entren's" cohesiveness is due to an aspect of music production that many artists and producers seem to overlook in the day of iTunes: the actual organization of the album. The album's overblown, theatrical approach suits the music and never distracts the listener from the content of the record. The "Intro," instrumental "Inter−En Annunakilandia," and "Outro" of "Entren" help give the album a sense of organization while stylistically mimicking Calle 13's lyrics. Starting with the energetic "Calma Pueblo," which features Omar Rodriguez of The Mars Volta, and closing with the beautifully layered harmonies and driving, but understated, drumming of "Prepárame la Cena," the tracks weave thoughtfully around this structure to create an album that flows very logically from beginning to end.

"Calma Pueblo" is certainly a strong track that could attract a crossover audience from bands such as — logically — The Mars Volta, or even Cypress Hill. A heavy beat, Rodriguez's guitar riffs that sound at times like a whacked−out Santana, and a catchy refrain all make this an effective opening track that both lays out the direction of the rest of the album and hooks listeners. One of my other personal favorite tracks is the waltz−like "Latinoamérica," with its violin, subtle guitar reminiscent of a music box and the careful harmonies of singers Susan Baca, Totó la Momposina and Maria Rita. The song starts out quietly, but gracefully flushes out as the different musical layers interact. "Latinoamérica's" message is also a highlight, as it poetically calls for Latin American solidarity.

Overall, "Entren Los Que Quieran" is a highly listenable album valuable for both its witty lyrics and song structures, and its definitively dance−worthy feel. At times, the sheer number of genres and sound effects that are all woven together can be overwhelming, and can occasionally give the album a feeling of structureless chaos, but if anything, this is all part of the desired effect as the songs never are so free−form as to be unapproachable to the casual listener. The album manages to be rowdy and fun, while simultaneously making a clear political statement.

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