40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses by Chico’s Brother
A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.
You wanna hear America right now?
It ain’t some chest-thumping, dumbed-down recycled-classic-rock with a yella-dog-in-a-pickup-truck-with-a-red-hatted-good-ol-bubba making Merica meth again. It ain’t the scratchy skirl of a Scottish fiddle playing a weathered tune, it ain’t the trip-skittle of hard bop, not the altered states of a Mahler mind-field, not The Beatles, no Nirvana, and it sure as fuck ain’t the latest auto-tuned non-entity sliding across the charts of lucre.
You wanna hear America right now? This is it. Folk ‘n’ urban, sweet as candy, and ready to cut you. Chico’s Brother, harmonious and alienating, narrative and nonsense, avant-ghetto, is the expression of Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, resident of Mansfield, Ohio, and elsewhere. He’s a stew of ethnic and cultural storms, rich in voice, startlingly open and maddeningly elusive, like everything and like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
His 2016 album 40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses (an independent production available on bandcamp.com) is fertile with creativity and guest performers including, among others, Sovroncourt, Orie Rush, Kate Westfall, Chuck Blackwell, and even the artist’s grandmother. But it is Diaz himself who shines as his lucid tenor soars out over the seething textures of songs like “programmed clouds” or in the elusive “or how,” where a story of bored kids in search of fun morphs into something darker under a werewolf moon. Or when the instruments pause for an instant and Diaz’s voice soars unfettered into the stratosphere in “but the Moon always glows,” the effect is nothing short of breathtaking. Such joy, such sadness.
In “little mexiKan Kandy,” the beguiling sweetness of the music hides razorblades protruding from the lyrics. Violence and threat of coercion always lurk around the corner for Chico’s Brother. Tell me that ain’t Donald Trump’s America. But this artist is that dumpster fire’s worst nightmare: queerly defiant, brown and proud, a survivor of a faltering nation’s shit-storm meltdown.
From gently strummed autoharp to nearly atonal expressionism, 40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses covers a startling range, probably more than is safe, but it dares the listener to try and keep up, though Diaz has a way of disappearing around a corner or down a brick-paved alley just when you think you’ve caught up with what he’s all about. He even taunts you in the refrain to “tires & scientology”: Na-na-na-na-na-na.
This indie record’s production is raw but highly creative, distorting plain sounds into the blistered skin of the artist’s world, of our world, one that still wraps around a tender heart of sweetness. Heart-rending but inspiring, 40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses announces a voice of survival and regeneration.
You wanna hear America?
This is it.
This is who we are.