Bardo Martinez of Los Angeles vintage band, Chicano Batman, made a comment in a Billboard Magazine piece this year: "That's really how I am, listening to that variety of music all the time. It's very important to hear music when you're a kid; it gives you a soundtrack for your life." Up until that point, I had been feverishly listening to their music over and over again - falling into trance after trance of reminiscent joy not quite understanding what was going on, or why. Really, at that point, I was still so emotionally involved in where the sounds were moving me, I didn't care to think about the why. Then I read Bardo's thought and it flashed - I knew what was happening here: I had just discovered a childhood-defining group in Chicano Batman.
Yes, I'm in Chicago now. But I was born and raised in Downtown San Jose. If you know anything about San Jose, you know it's Los Angeles sin Hollywood. San Jose and L.A. share many of the same underlying social and political values, and as such, we generally express ourselves in a similar musical fashion. So, when I was transported back to hot August nights in the late 80's, cruising the El Camino Real in everything from cherried-out '62 Bugs to souped up '64 Malibu's - it could have only been because these same moods were (and are) manifesting in different places. Chicano Batman has excited these vintage energies from within themselves in such a delicate and eclectic manner that what has been produced is nothing short of extraordinary.
In my last review, I claimed Gallo Negro might be the most interesting group of artists to play Ruido Fest; Chicano Batman might be the most eclectic. (I'm sure many would offer up Los Crema Paraiso. They certainly belong in the conversation...maybe a future post?) The delicacy by which they arrange their different musical influences - the soul, the 60's Chilean ballads, the Latin psychedelia, the splashes of tropicalia, bossa, and Chilean cumbia - nothing is over-the-top. And even though most of the music is tranquil and contemplative (I can't get enough of It's a Balloon), the sound is alive and power-packed. Partly because of the immense talent and intuitive precision of the players, partly because of the philosophical quality of Martinez's vocals. It's adds a beautiful dimension that manifests in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, while at the same time reminiscing of neighborhood crushes that got away, or entrancing Itotiani dancers.
This is what we get in their self-titled debut release with album art that pays homage to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement. I've talked about the importance of album art in the overall experience of how we connect and are moved by music. And this is no different. If you know anything about San Jose, you know it's where Cesar Chavez called home for an important period in his life. Having grown up around those that champion and are passionate about labor rights, the combination of both sound and visual symbolism in Chicano Batman's being immediately conjures up my childhood growing up in San Jose in a much more meaningful way than if it were just the music. The added dimension provides a contextual flavor that brings me so much closer to that which I feel is important in human interaction, while at the same time, not loosing the ability to kick back and have a good time while sporting vintage, ruffled tuxedo shirts.
With two EP releases and a second full length, Cycles of Existential Rhyme, Chicano Batman is making waves. Catch them Saturday, July 11th at Addams/Medill Park.