By: Sarah Moore
Ozomatli could be called the American cheese of the music world. Over-processed substances, artificial ingredients and a lack of flavor characterize their latest release, Don't Mess With the Dragon (Concord Records). Although the term "flavor" usually appears in conjunction with Latin-fringed music, this Latin-inspired American pop is particularly tasteless.
On the surface, Ozomatli come off as a seasoned band with many different sources of inspiration, but beyond studio tricks and utilization of cheap pop recipes, this is urban pop purporting to be politically and socially aware that comes across as candy-coated and machine-generated. Instead of setting themselves apart, Ozomatli fall in line with the generic.
There are hip-hop leanings and salsa nods, Middle Eastern tempos and dub mash-ups. These buzz words sound great but the sound boils down to a boy band backed by Latin drum machines and synth. The mid-song rap by Justin "El Nino" Poree on "Can't Stop" puts the cheese over the edge. Vocals by Raul Pacheco, Ulises Bella, Jiro Yamaguchi and "Wil-Dog" Abers drip through canned effects and sped up to an inhuman pace where overproduction takes its toll.
I haven't even been to L.A. but I have a feeling "City of Angels" hypes more of the outsider's perspective than an insider's. Amidst rapping, scratching, token female vocal break and studio-mutated horns, the song shows, yet again, why this disc belongs better in 1994 than 2007. Sound effects plugged in intermittently do not help with the musical integrity but certainly add to the party atmosphere on the title track, which features a robust male chorus resounding amidst Latin sousaphone, calls and whistles. A combination of traditional Spanish horns and hip-hop shows Ozomatli's crossover appeal in "La Gallina." '80s videogame funk takes over in one highlight, "When I Close My Eyes," but the quick return to corporate hooks keeps them locked in today's Top 40 style.
On the plus side, Dragon is more collaborative than past releases. Rather than songs being attributed to single band members each feature bits and pieces from everybody. However, Ozomatli's own biography acknowledges that Dragon is the most "polished" (code word: studio processed) record to date.
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