Ozomatli: Don't Mess With the Dragon

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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[Published on: 9/10/07]

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G$Love Tue 9/11/2007 12:00PM
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Ouch. Haven't heard it yet, but I've never fallen in love with their previous studio albums. They do kill it live like few others though.

The1AndOnlyDJCT starstarstarstarstar Tue 9/11/2007 07:15PM
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This review hits the nail on the head in my opinion. Never seen them live though. I was going to go to one of their shows, but then I heard the album, maybe I should give their live show a chance.

dedhed6111 Wed 9/12/2007 11:28AM
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ozomatli may not shine in the studio, but they are the fat swingin tits live, and that is no exaggeration.

DJ Saturday Baxter Wed 9/12/2007 09:24PM
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DJ Saturday Baxter

i saw them live 3 years ago in san diego. they were good. lots of dancing and a drunk good time. Nothing mind blowing , but solid.

keithrichardsforpres Fri 9/14/2007 07:05AM
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DJ Saturday Baxter - I'll agree that musically, live they are nothing mind blowing, solid for sure but now mind blowing, but with all the stage dancing and overall presentation I think it's a very worthwhile fun show to see. They were the first show I saw after moving to Chicago, and it singlehandedly brought me out of the "new city funk" I was in, it's very positive and up-lifting, what live music should be.

waldocpr starstarstarstar Fri 9/14/2007 03:46PM
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This is where a critic's ears are scathingly spot on. Their music is catchy and clearly draws from popular latin themes. Their live shows are just as fun as you might expect a latin party band's to be. I've seen them twice (once by accident) and I would see them again without a doubt.

nbflowers Mon 9/17/2007 03:25PM
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I haven't heard the CD, but did see them this year and the new stuff comes off very well live.

thefrumpeter star Tue 9/18/2007 12:10AM
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To say this album is disappointing wouldn't be too far fetched. And as this is an Album review, i can't really disagree with the author's comments.

But to call Ozomatli American Cheese, makes you wonder why Sarah would bother writing a review about a band she obviously knows nothing about. Ozomatli is in a word Electric, anyone who has ever been to a live show can attest to the fact that they are one of the best LIVE bands around. Rather than be swayed by a studio album, i urge everyone to check them out next time they come to town. but yeah, you may want to skip this album---not at all indicative of Ozo.

bjammin starstar Tue 9/18/2007 12:38PM
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Wow! That's a shitty review. They're a great band live for sure. I don't think the reviewer should ever visit L.A.

PeterGunz starstar Thu 9/20/2007 10:07AM
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I like their previous efforts a lot better. They also put on a great show live. Check out Live at The Fillmore for a good taste. This reviewer sounds a bit biased in my opinion.