The Silos

Former Florida homeboy Walter Salas-Humara may not have invented Latin alternative, but, to retool an old expression, he certainly was Latino before Latino was cool. Over the course of six critically acclaimed albums with his band the Silos; two solo stabs; a pair with his sometime side band, the Setters; and untold production projects, Salas-Humara has celebrated his Hispanic heritage with an American attitude.

Salas-Humara got his start with a Gainesville-based band called the Vulgar Boatmen, an outfit he cofounded with another former Floridian, Bob Rupe. Once Salas-Humara and Rupe segued into the Silos, however, the critics took notice. Cuba, the group's initial offering, was an auspicious debut, and fifteen years later it remains the definitive Silos set. But when Rupe left to join Cracker soon after the Silos' self-titled sophomore set, Salas-Humara became the only constant in a revolving cast of collaborators and co-conspirators. Other artists came along to lay claim to the roots-rock mantle the Silos helped establish, but Salas-Humara kept busy in the background, making memorable music and earning an enviable reputation.

Which brings us to Laser Beam Next Door, the Silos' latest opus and the first to trim the group to a trio. Newcomers Drew Glackin and Konrad Merissner ride shotgun though a series of seductive songs driven by terse rhythms and riveting refrains. The most immediately engaging is the opener, "Satisfied," a barrage of pulsating percussion, and "Where Ya Been," a relentless rocker fueled by Salas-Humara's fiery fretwork.

Mostly though, Laser Beam Next Door is a jumble of conflicting allusions. Like earlier Silos sojourns, this current crop of songs has an elusive feel, marked by meandering melodies that gel only when you're caught up in the chorus. Inevitably the lilting sway of "Drunken Moon" becomes a supple serenade. The sinewy riffing that propels "Four on the Floor" brakes and accelerates with an unexpected allure. "I Believe" blends an assertive edge with an ethereal bent and a dark delivery with acidic observations ("All the hippies smell like gasoline/And all the police are on methodrene"). There's also something to be said for the fact that two songs -- "Sangre y Lagrimas" and "Disfrute" -- are sung in Spanish. But if that expands the meaning of a roots-rock regimen, it's hardly a tie to tradition. Laser Beam Next Door is as unexpected and intriguing as its title implies.

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Lee Zimmerman