Making Movies – XOPA

It was five years ago this month that I discovered Making Movies for the first time. Their groundbreaking 2017 single “Spinning Out” instantly caught my attention, and ever since then the Kansas City-based quartet has remained one of my steady favorites. After unleashing the ambitious ameri’kana in May of 2019, the Afro-Latino alt.-rockers went back to the drawing board, bringing back out an old riff that frontman Enrique Chi had been working on for years. The ensuing studio session at Memphis Magnetic birthed what would become the title track and lead cut from their next studio effort, XOPA. The album, their first release with all of its lyrics entirely in Spanish, not only feels more ambitious than ameri’kana before it, but it also feels more focused than the band’s previous records.

XOPA opens with a simple yet commanding declaration on its explosive lead cut: “soy el que soy” (“I am who I am”) and “voy donde voy” (“I go where I want”). It’s a statement of confidence that lets listeners know right away that Making Movies is unabashed, unwilling to compromise on anything. Of course, upon listening back through ameri’kana, I Am Another You, A la Deriva, and even 2010’s In Deo Speramus (if you want to go all the way back to the band’s inception), we notice that the Kansas City natives have never really been one for compromising. What sets XOPA apart though? With only nine songs and one interlude chock full of “Consejos,” there isn’t a whole lot of margin for error this time around, and thankfully, there doesn’t need to be.

While Making Movies has become known for a very particular sound over the course of their last several releases, a few new adjustments are distinct to XOPA. First, and perhaps most notably, is the addition of drummer Duncan Burnett, making his first appearance on a Making Movies full-length. Burnett brings to the blend his background playing Black gospel, something that really shows up on cuts like the roaring rocker “Nos Entenderan,” the steady pulse of “La Primera Radio,” and even with the constantly-evolving nature of the nearly 10-minute album closer “Caracol.” He compliments fellow percussionist Juan-Carlos Chaurand incredibly well, fitting right in as if he, like Chaurand, had been a member from the very beginning. Also apparent is the incorporation of horns (specifically trumpet and trombone) that helps bolster already-stellar compositions, courtesy of guest Adam Theis: from the anthemic title track “XOPA” and the entrancing groove of the intentionally-indulgent “Sala de Los Pecadores,” to the progressive centerpiece “La Primera Radio” and the lead single “Calor” that is equal parts soul and salsa, Theis effortlessly adds extra layering regardless of context. He isn’t the only special guest to make a key contribution to XOPA, though.

Anyone familiar with their previous releases is well aware that Making Movies doesn’t shy away from collaboration, and XOPA is no exception. Along with the aforementioned brass, the band links up with Memphis mainstays including the Reverend Charles Hodges (a soul icon known for his work with Al Green) and The Sensational Barnes Brothers. They also enlist the help of Marc Ribot (“La Primera Radio”) and Martha Gonzales (“La Sombra”), in addition to calling on frequent collaborators Alaina Moore of Tennis (“Porcelina”), Steve Berlin, Asdru Sierra, and Jeremy Kittel (“Caracol”). The wide scope of styles covered throughout XOPA goes hand in hand with the diversity of its guests, journeying from rumba to merengue, from gospel to punk, from soul to salsa, from bugalú to cumbia, and everywhere in between.

There are quite a few memorable moments from XOPA, as the record has a lot to offer, both sonically and thematically, from its emphatic opener to its epic closer. While there is something to be said about the more intense standouts like “XOPA” and “Nos Entenderan,” the album’s highlight is “Mamá,” one of the more beautiful songs the quartet has written to date. Here, hazy vocal harmonies from The Sensational Barnes Brothers, along with those from bassist and experimental vocalist Diego Chi, serve as the perfect sonic backing for Enrique’s recounting of a near-lucid dream that memorializes the Chi’s grandmother. The 10-minute epic “Caracol” is another example of the beauty personified on XOPA, examining a sort of vulnerability while it also embodies this steady rise and fall to close out the record. It’s easily the longest Making Movies song ever written, and yet, it doesn’t overstay its welcome like you might expect with a 10-minute song. “Caracol” ends in a contemplative manner, urging the listener not to “go back into that shell,” but rather to move on.

With their fifth studio effort, Making Movies has somehow managed to craft a record more varied and wide-ranging than ever before, and that’s saying quite a bit considering just how much ground was covered on ameri’kana three years earlier. XOPA takes a look back over the course of the band’s decade-plus career, doing so with a renewed sense of insight and perspective. Their shortest LP to date successfully packs in a myriad of sounds and themes, all within a span of just over forty minutes.

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