Ceremony, Mexicans With Guns
Innovative Leisure Records, USA
by Jeff Siegel
One of the greatest things about Club Fonograma lays right within its name--we're a club. And like any great club, we appreciate an outsiders' perspective on the things we discuss. With that in mind, we've invited Jeff Siegel, formerly of Stylus Magazine but now a visual artist working out of http://www.theprivatesector.org, to review the latest from Mexicans with Guns.
Be it foible or folly or or pig-headed compulsion, I've yet to encounter a politically or socially charged bon mot slapped hastily onto an artwork that didn't lead me down a rabbit hole of wild associations and armchair sociology. It's what I do. So, Mexicans with Guns: narcoterrorism, outland clashes, incomprehensible gore, sidelong-stare darkness, "ay, gringo,"etc., etc., blah blah blah. It's easy to make too much of that name, which is of course why I have. And naturally it has no bearing on anything.
It's weird: it's usually the po-faced residents of the World Music ghetto who get caught up in some misbegotten politics-of-representation stuff, but this is as perfectly Europhilic, and apolitical, a bass record as anyone's made; how this has gotten filed under "música mexicana" so often is a little inexplicable. Sure, there are plenty of hand drums floating around, but what bass track doesn't have a wood block or shaker in it somewhere, swiped in that inimitably European oh-thank-God-something-new manner? The occasional bursts of Spanish won't trouble the most rudimentary American understandings of the tongue. (If it helps the reader to get where I'm coming from, I've seen more carnicerías than butcher shops in my day, though I've never been any farther south than Virginia.) What Ceremony is most like, in fact, is an oughty-teens update of the nineties-era Mo' Wax/Ninja Tune template: stylistic shifts through all the colors of the electronic-music rainbow, peppered with exoticism like falling confetti, and focused on very-Now fractal syncopation and American-style trunk rattle. I might hazard that it matters some that he's a native of San Anton', but I'm pretty sure it doesn't, anymore than it matters that dyed-in-the-wool guarachereño Untold went to Mexico that one time.
Speaking of Untold, there are plenty of reasons to pay close and happy attention to MwG, not the least of which are his deliciously modish influences. Sr. Dunning would be smug about putting his name on "Mirage," with its cheap, ghetto blaster pocks and plunks, and that same magnificent way of dropping everything out for a second or two too long, twisting it around like a balloon animal, then throwing it back, like a dancefloor pulse test. And it would be easy to imagine Kode9 gleefully ruining the sawtooth cone-toasting of "Jaguar" (complete with actual really-dude? sample of a jaguar roar) with a terrible Spaceape vocal. But where Untold deals in yawning voids and Kode9 in opressive cold and drizzle, Mexicans with Guns fills every corner with a dank humidity that, sound-wise, is probably the most overtly Mexican thing here, though I understand Texas is a lot like that too.
I'm harping on the name and the trappings, I know, but that's what happens when one slaps something so incendiary on the cover of one's record. Not talking about Ceremony's Mexican-ness, ignoring the Aztec calendar on the cover, neglecting the luchador mask he wears at gigs, treats all the presumably important cultural signifiers--they are everywhere in the presentation--as little more than patterning on a duvet cover. The lovely, wide open synths and bongos of "Opening Incantation" are accompanied by a spacey yet stern-sounding woman: "soy la montaña, soy el mar, soy el cielo, no hay espacio, no hay tiempo." It's cod-spirituality, the sort of thing Talvin Singh would use to sound worldly, but it's still as close to politics or social issues as the record itself comes. In the above-linked NPR interview, MwG explains his choice of name, how it evokes thoughts of "gun rights, the border, immigration, education, stereotypes," and the all-important, "etc.," and the NPR hack, bless him, dutifully compares that move to Miles Davis naming Tutu after Desmond. Against all odds, that sounds about right: we'll never know if anyone coming at Tutu without the title would think of apartheid. It's the Godspeed You! Black Emperor syndrome: the politics are pre-suggested on the wrapping, but would a listener ever get there on their own?
What rankles isn't so much that it's kind of cheap as it's basically unnecessary. Strip all that away and you're left with a highly polished, wickedly accomplished bass record, as good or better than any other this year. The highs--the ridiculous R&S-isms of "El Sol y la Luna," the purple sunburst of "El Moreno," the crushing house of "Dame Lo"--are towering, and the lows--a listless Freddie Gibbs on "Highway to Hell," the too-trad reggaeton of "Me Gusto" (seriously)--are still perfectly redeemable. In the end, Ceremony comes hard enough to render its own presentation obsolete, and these days, that's saying something.