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MTV Unplugged

Kinky first emerged in the late ‘90s as part of a wave of groups from Monterrey that challenged Mexico City’s dominance over the country’s music business. The movement, known as avanzada regia, united bands through regional pride rather than musical similarity. Kinky was one of three major avanzada regia groups, along with the grunge-inspired Zurdok Movimento, and hip-hop collective Control Machete. Kinky’s sound was the most electro-oriented, but also incorporated elements of rock and funk, along with the region’s traditional norteña. The combination of this working-class style with the cosmopolitan dance sounds of America and Europe successfully raised the profile of Monterrey among Mexico’s cultural elite.

The new MTV Unplugged album (available from Nacional Records) doesn’t completely strip Kinky of electronic influences, but their norteña roots are more apparent here than previously. Some synths remain, but what sticks out the most are gorgeous harmonies on the opening tracks, “Soun Tha Mi Primer Amor” and “Huracán.” The heavy norteña begins with “Para Poder Llegar a Ti,” on which they’re joined by the L.A.-based Voz de Mando, and Beto Zapata, singer and accordionist of Grupo Pesado, one of Monterrey’s most popular norteña acts. With traditional norteña instrumental arrangement–accordion, bajosexto (Mexican 12-string guitar) and tuba–accompanying a power-pop melody and subtle synth playing, Kinky performs with ecstatic fervor for those lucky enough to be in the crowd at Mexico City’s Churubusco Studios.

Carla Morrison, an indie pop singer from Tecate, joins the group for a rousing performance of “A Dónde Van Los Muertos?”, a track with a strong rock ‘n’ roll feel. The video for the original 2006 version of the song ends with the band destroying their instruments Who-style on stage, complete with a ripped-apart accordion. Later on, Kinky branches out into hip-hop with “Negro Día,” featuring Spanish MC Mala Rodríguez. The track sounds like a female-fronted Rage Against the Machine, with furious funk-rock energy and Mala compelling audience members to never stop dancing: “¡Después de una noche larga de bailar, bailar bailar bailar!” (After a long night of dancing, dance dance dance!)

Norteña returns again as Kinky performs a cover of El Chapo de Sinaloa’s “Para Que Regreses,” reimagined as funky bass-heavy electropop. The best track on the album, however, is the last. “Bien Pedo, Bien Loco” contains everything great about Kinky in three glorious minutes. The song is structured around festive brass playing from Banda Los Recoditos, a group from Sinaloa state that plays banda, a stylistic cousin to norteña. Added to the horns are shimmering electric keyboards and crescendoing harmonies leading to a beautiful, eruptive climax to the performance.

MTV Unplugged may not be “unplugged” at all, but it is Kinky at their rawest. The album provides perhaps the best overview of the band’s vision and its lasting importance in the Mexican alternative music scene. For Kinky, there is no contradiction between rock and norteña, synths and banda. It’s all supposed to make you bailar bailar bailar. And then bailar some more.

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  • Jim Van Matre

    Best record of 2015