by Matt Cibula

Control Machete


(Universal Music Latino)

The Ewing Theory (courtesy of Professor Bill Simmons) states the simple truth that sports teams often play best when their main superstar is sidelined: forced to be more creative, they learn flexibility and refuse to be lazy. Sadly, this does not work for music groups, which usually suck like an Oreck when deprived of their big cheese. So when I heard that Mexico's best rap group was losing Fermin IV, its rapper mas importante, to a solo career, my heart kinda sank for Control Machete.

But that just means my heart's kinda stupid, because the Ewing Theory kicks in, and todo es bueno. Emcee Pato, who was always the Phife to Fermin IV's Q-Tip, steps up and formulates a mic presence all his own, with gruff sarcastic bluster, cracked whispers, and tossed-off warnings. He's nobody's idea of a virtuoso, but he doesn't need to be when producer Toy Hernandez's beatscapes are so pinpoint and shifty: "Hey, this song 'Paciencia' is going along pretty well, so why don't I interrupt it for a semi-reggae break played on a cheap-ass, accordion-sounding keyboard?" The gestalt formed here isn't flashy, but it's more effective as an album than anything they did when Fermin was en la casa.

Part of this is because they have really smart taste in collaborators: boho teen queen Natalia Lafourcade multitrackin' it on the chorus of "El Apostador," Molotov drummer Randy Ebright spitting with Pato on "Ahora," and all the members of Los Caballeros del Plan G and Sekreto on the epic posse cut "En el Camino." And Anita Tijoux's work on "Como Ves," where she starts out whispering to herself and works it up into a surreal polyphonic rap, is the most exciting hiphop cameo of last year.

This would be enough, even without the bonus VCD, which contains videos for every single track, hooked up by the brilliant artetoboggan collective. They go Russofuturismo for "Bandera," Chris Marker photo-still style for "Nostalgia," and gauzy-pretty on "Verbos." The videos are as perfect as the songs, which are pretty perfect to begin with.