A La Deriva
The title of local rock en español specialists Making Movies’ new album, “A La Deriva,” might mean “set adrift,” but the record’s 11 tracks show a band possessed with a certain, steady sense of direction.
Coming only a few months on the heels of the fine EP “Aguardiente,” the new LP saw the band taking a trip to Portland, Ore., to record with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, who offered to produce for Making Movies when they opened for his band at Knuckleheads last year.
Apart from his work with Los Lobos, Berlin has performed on such landmark albums as Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Sheryl Crow’s solo debut, in addition to producing for artists as diverse as Buckwheat Zydeco and Leo Kottke.
Berlin’s touch is palpable on “A La Deriva” from the opening track “Cuna De Vida,” which also opened the previous record. The new version sounds bigger, roomier and even more raucously joyous than the EP version. Berlin has rounded out the sonics with subtle reverb effects and a more focused and brighter edge to Diego Chi’s bass guitar. Together, these elements ground the organ, recorder and propulsive percussion, punctuated by handclaps to summarize the Making Movies philosophy in a nutshell.
The band says its sound incorporates elements of American and Mexican music with traditions drawn from Afro-Cuban, Afro-Peruvian and Panamanian Cumbia, which makes extensive use of African-style drums. Exuberant percussion is the signature through-line of “A La Deriva,” whether it’s the distant hand drumming that sometimes forms the only accompaniment to singer Enrique Javier Chi on the track “Pendulum,” or the multiple layers that crescendo with his squalling guitar in “Ciego Sin Querer.”
The diversity of influences on the album goes far beyond traditional Latin forms, though. In fact, attitudes from early New Wave and classic alternative rock often assert themselves dominantly. The almost-tentative ultra-clean guitar plucking at the beginning of “Te Estaba Buscando” could pass for a long-lost XTC track. And the halting, start-and-stop structure and tricky time signature of “Muerte” bring to mind Talking Heads’ off-kilter art rock.
There’s also plenty of beautiful ugliness in the guitar work on the album, as in the fantastic grungy solo of “Ego Trip,” which channels Jon Spencer by way of Santana. And that’s also offset by the pretty moments like the strings on “Luna” and Enrique’s breathy, emotive vocal performance on downtempo numbers such as “Ready for the Rain” or the soaring chorus of “Lo Que Quiero.”
Bands that strive to combine multiple styles risk falling into the trap that doomed pop/rock music in the late ‘80s. Too many promising acts let gospel choirs, Caribbean percussion, samplers and metal guitar solos sink their songwriting in piles of unneeded production junk. But Making Movies and Berlin’s approach to “A La Deriva” is more open minded, with its wealth of textures serving the music instead of fighting it.