When I think of bands that never stop grinding, Making Movies is one of the first names that comes to mind. Last month the Latin American alternative rockers graced the world with their fourth full-length album, ameri’kana, two years removed (nearly to the day) from the release of their third LP, 2017’s I Am Another You. In the spirit of following suit with their past releases, ameri’kana is another concept record. This time around, however, the story is set in the future, where ameri’kana itself is an “oldies” radio station recounting the troubles of the distant past. That sort of premise in and of itself was enough to pique my interest, but what’s really held my interest since then is the fact that the Kansas City-based quartet is able to execute such a mind-boggling concept as well as they do.
Right from the onset of ameri’kana, there’s a sense of urgency in frontman Enrique Chi’s message, and it’s evident that Making Movies are not here to idly stand by while injustices still need to be addressed here in America. The record is a collection of “protest songs,” which is ironic because Chi and company openly reject that label being thrust onto their tunes. Nevertheless, I can’t help but find the term fitting when I think of the frantic shuffles of the eerie opener “Cómo Perdonar” and the infectious “Delilah,” or the reimagined rallying cries like the Joe Arroyo hit “Rebelión” and “No Te Calles,” just to name a few of many that serve as the soundtracks to a revolution. Elsewhere, the two pairs of brothers pay homage to their roots with their takes of Latino anthems such as Los Tigres del Norte’s “De Paisano a Paisano” and Rubén Blades’ “Patria.”
Speaking of the Panamanian legend, Blades plays a pivotal role over the course of the entire record, from writing and co-writing several of the songs (many of which he sings as well), to even providing additional instrumentation where necessary. He leads a guest list of musical all-stars that includes idols and peers alike, from contemporaries like recurring NYC all-women mariachi collective Flor de Toloache, LA Chicano collective Las Cafeteras, and Ozomatli co-founder Asdru Sierra, to childhood heroes like Blades himself, and even the late Lou Reed who co-wrote “Delilah” along with Blades back in the late 1980s.
The fact that Blades and Reed penned a song that 30+ years later is arguably more relevant now than it would have been three decades ago is a true testament to the universality and importance of the message on “Delilah.” Blades also helps give new meaning to the 2017 single “Spinning Out” by turning the nearly-identical composition into a Spanish-language call-to-action “No Te Calles,” but he isn’t the only one helping breathe new life into previously-recorded tunes. From Flor de Toloache’s assist on “Rebelión” and Las Cafeteras’ drastic reworking of the 2010 Making Movies original “Tormenta,” to Steve Berlin and David Hidalgo of Latin American rock legends Los Lobos appearing on “De Paisano a Paisano,” to Puerto Rican salsero Frankie Negrón helping to revitalize Blades’ own “Patria,” there’s an overwhelming spirit of collaboration throughout ameri’kana.
There are a lot of elements to this record that make it stand out sonically. For one, the band of brothers employ a whole host of different styles, including salsa, cumbia, mariachi, and even dashes of Tejano music, all of which are held in place by tight rhythms from dueling percussionists Andres and Juan-Carlos Chaurand with thematic interludes throughout. Throw in the album’s otherworldly falsettos from bassist Diego Chi along with the psychedelic overtones that have become so customary for the Kansas City natives, and it’s no wonder ameri’kana covers so much ground.
It’s only been two years since I Am Another You, and yet the Chi and Chaurand brothers are already back with another unique message explored extensively on this “station between stations.” In many ways, ameri’kana is the perfectly logical “next step” in the band’s career. It sums up where they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished thus far, both literally and metaphorically, while still giving the listener enough fresh content to feel like they’re experiencing a completely new project. And even though it’s not a “completely new” project across the board, with highlights like the surreal psychedelic opus “The Wake of the Fall [Nibiru]” and the fantastically-executed collaborations with Asdru Sierra (on “Pedacito de Papel”) and Rubén Blades (“Cómo Perdonar” and “Delilah”), the Mexican and Panamanian Americans are easily able to avoid compromising on quality. It’s my favorite Making Movies album since 2013’s A la Deriva, and the perfect first taste for anyone new to these Afro-Latino alt rockers.