El Gran Silencio

In El Gran Silencio's native Monterrey, the accordion is a deadly weapon. That's why the band appeals to chúntaros, barrio bad boys like themselves, with a wild working-class fusion it calls "freestyle norteño popular." El Gran Silencio is often referred to as a Mexican regional-hip-hop hybrid, but the band bites more from Colombian vallenato and cumbia than from anything heard in the Bronx or Compton. Yeah, that's an old-school 808 drum machine on the intro to Silencio's fourth album (thumping behind samples of the band getting dissed in interviews with people on the street), but most of the rap on ¡Super Riddim Internacional! Vol. 1 comes to Mexico via Puerto Rico's own hardcore street genre (and biggest commercial success), reggaetón. The barrio-to-barrio hookup makes sense sociologically, but unfortunately it also makes for some metrically mind-numbing delivery. True to the album's title, the riddims come from everywhere.

The boho gem "Buenos Dias" juxtaposes drum and bass beats with Latin hand percussion against an off-kilter country guitar and a hippy-dippy chorus saluting the sun: "It's a brand new day/in my Monterrey." "El Espejo" ("The Mirror") is an inspired weave of two of the world's most mysterious sounds, sinuous Colombian cumbia and Algerian rai, threaded together by Tony Hernández's genius blues guitar. In fact Hernández is the best thing about Super Riddim Internacional: The expressivity and originality of his playing puts the rappers to shame. Accordionist Campa Valdez holds his own, too, especially when he gets to show off on norteño-heavy numbers like "El Venadito" and "Huapanator."

El Gran Silencio has so much energy that ¡Super Riddim Internacional! should be more fun than it is. But too often, when the fusion gets wild, the group's beat-by-rote rappers stomp on the buzz. If El Gran Silencio is serious about the riddim, its rappers need to bring some rhythm to their rhymes. Right now they've got as much flow as a metronome. Plus, the production is too straightforward and restrained, cleaning up and choking off what should be a big, messy, folkloric sound as wild and loose as the band's imagination. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado