Various Artists

Amores Perros
Universal/Surco

Listening to tracks featured in Amores Perros -- the viscera-twisting Mexican film up for an Academy Award -- is like surfing border radio. The punkish props of the Mexican hip-hop group Control Machete, the shopworn spice of a recent Celia Cruz hit, standard cumbia, and the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman" are all in the mix. Amores Perros(Love's a Bitch), the movie in which vicious fighting dogs symbolize the struggles of human characters, has been lauded for its tough portrayal of society in contemporary Mexico City. Accordingly the soundtrack, with its inner-city beats and aggressive raps, rock ballads, and regional dance rhythms, reflects the schizophrenic symphony of life in urban Latin America.

Los Angeles-based Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla has long been instrumental in expanding the definition of "Latin music." Moving in the opposite direction of the manufactured bon bon-shaking tropi-pop that's captured the charts, he has boosted production values for rock and hip-hop performed in Spanish while promoting artists' experimentation with diverse global and regional sounds within a contemporary framework. Cuban hip-hoppers Orishas and Mexican singer/songwriter Julieta Venegas are among the artists on Santaolalla's Universal-distributed Surco Records, one of the most consistent labels going in any language.

On the Amores Perrosdouble CD, Santaolalla showcases Surco and Universal artists as well as other groups he's produced (including altrock masters Café Tacuba) and some of his own compositions written as incidental music for the film. The first CD contains the aforementioned film soundtrack, a selection of previously released music interspersed with Santaolalla's brief, ambient instrumentals. A second disc features music by various artists that was inspired by the film and expressly produced for this project.

The music from the movie ranges from hyper (Titán's psycho-funk "Corazón") to pensive (Eighties' Spanish hipsters Nacha Pop's "Lucha de Gigantes" -- "Giant Fight") to celebratory (Cruz's "La Vida Es un Carnaval" ("Life Is a Carnival"). Ilya Kuryaki's rousing "Coolo" and Control Machete's "Si Señor" are familiar anthems of Latin alternative fans. Banda Espuela de Oro's bilingual, ska-based "Dame el Poder" ("Give Me the Power") harbors powerful social commentary under its silly veneer. Santaolalla's own eerie mood music would not be out of place in a Sergio Leone Western. Aggressive and innovative, the soundtrack builds suspense with some jarringly effective transitions, as soft instrumentals suddenly are interrupted by crashing beats.

The second CD is not just a bonus; it's the real reason to buy this album. The disc includes twelve songs, all with "Amores Perros" in the title. Café Tacuba's "Amores Perros Aviéntame" is the standout track. This spare heart-in-mouth ballad accompanies a cunningly poetic meditation with acoustic guitar. Other highlights include Ely Guerra's Brazilian-beat love song, Venegas's lusty pop-rock tune, and Control Machete's rough and creepy "Amores Perros" rap softened by Guerra's whispery guest vocals.

Although the companion disc is only about half an hour long, there's a lot to listen to here. Santaolalla's production gives the disparate tunes some welcome continuity, but despite that and the common "Perros" theme, this still is more of a compilation than an album. That said, the Amores Perros set would be a nice addition to the collection of fans of these artists, and it's a strong sampler for those uninitiated in -- or still unconvinced of -- the vast talent of Latin-American bands.

 
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