Los De Abajo

There's a bit of folk musician in any punk, even if the only folklore that's of interest sprung out of mid-'70s bohemia. There's also a sense of art as political agitation, even if the politics are nothing more than a series of contradictory rebellious impulses. In both senses, Mexico City's Los De Abajo fits the profile of an exceptionally well rounded, ideologically coherent punk band. A vivid illustration can be found in the confrontational politics and rapid- fire beat of the ska-flavored "Screw," which portrays the death squad/drug dealer thug as the face of the government on the ground.

That ska rhythm, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a merengue, and it's hard to imagine Los De Abajo staying locked into one approach for long. While the album as a whole shows enthusiasm for traditional rhythms -- bouncing from cumbia to rocksteady to norteña -- the performances are so urgent and the richly layered arrangements so lively and aggressive that this feels like the music of the moment and, perhaps, the future. In a phrase, salsa out of bounds.

While that description suggests the flavor of the instrumentation, what makes Los De Abajo even more appealing is the personal nature of its songwriting, which allows for one moving vocal after another. The human condition is captured as individual moments of heartbreak, loneliness and even madness, but the hopeful moments shine all the brighter for it. On "That Place Does Exist," the singers' call-and-response vocals take on a Pentecostal ecstasy as the song's utopian vision takes shape. The norteña/ska of "Go On, Rise Up" is so frenzied it's giddy, and if you take its advice, liberating. Remember when those words used to describe punk?

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Danny Alexander