One spring night in 2002, I saw Los Abandoned in a Hollywood club dressed in Greatest Generation–era military uniforms, strumming out heartbreak in Spanish with a ukulele to an uninterested crowd. They only played two songs and weren’t even officially on the bill that night, but I knew then that the quartet would Make It.
I kept the faith over the next four years, through sporadic demo releases, lineup changes, broken record deals and minimal radio play. Their bilingual power pop enraptured me; goofy stage shows (dressed as The Royal Tenenbaums or as the house band for a full-scale winter formal) showed an infinite capacity for fun. And then finally, deliverance: Neil Young’s Vapor Records, home of Tegan & Sara and Jonathan Richman, will release the group’s debut, Mix Tape, this week.
Los Abandoned may be on the cusp of Making It, but Mix Tape also possesses the potential to do something more extraordinary. The quartet — singer/keyboardist Lady P, guitarist/token white boy Don Verde, bassist Vira Lata and drummer Dulce — are the best of the Great Brown Hopes, the groups that fans and record executives have vainly hoped for years could demolish the linguistic barrier that prevents Latino L.A.’s many musicians from crossing to non-Latino audiences. Where Los Abandoned succeeds and others have failed (see: Pastilla, Quetzal, Volumen Cero) is in the choice of language — equal parts English, Spanish and Spanglish — yes, but primarily the dialect of pop: snappy, three-minute songs with sticky bass hooks, cooing vocals, beat boxes, soaring organ freak outs, handclaps and hopscotching guitars.
As fanatics will note, half the songs on Mix Tape have already been heard as demos and EPs over the past few years. Such self-cannibalizing smells of amateurism and laziness — and while Los Abandoned were at it, why didn’t they also cop their punky remake of Selena’s “Como la Flor”? Still, these oldies feel newly relevant and happening — you decide whether that’s a testament to Los Abandoned’s vision or the stagnant state of pop rock. The chugging-clapping “Van Nuys (Es Very Nice)” transplants the El Lay immigration dream from Eastlos to the Valley only to find a “great big cloud of smog that makes you choke and hate/¿y dejaste tu país por esto? (And you left your country for this?).” “Stalk U” and “Panic-Oh!” are bite-size bubblegum treats with enough pop for Indie 103.1 and rock for Rodney. “Me Quieren en Chile” (“They Love Me in Chile”) segues from high-snap reggae to indigenous Chilean clickety-clacks to a breathless finale that makes the Ramones seem as leisurely as Hank Williams.
Mix Tape consistently draws from the well of poppy goodness laced with a bit of edge and saccharinity (“Nada Mio Is Fake” sounds like a grade-school Gwen Stefani effort) to the point where you know what to expect next — which ain’t good, Spanish or no Spanish. But the three slow songs on the album hint at coming greatness and maturity for Los Abandoned. “Office Christmas Party,” a teen symphony of weeping ukuleles and grandiose horns, is “The Leader of the Pack” for the MySpace generation, a novella of forbidden love with the boy from the wrong side of the tracks now a cute data-entry drone. The Lady P/Don Verde duet “Pantalon” has nothing to do with its title (“Pants”) but is the most precious three minutes you’ll hear this fall. And “State of Affairs” should be the torch song for all lefties, a harmonica-driven lament of a conscious girl who tells her apathetic beau, “You say our conversations are depressing, you say my observations are distressing/and you say it like it’s a bad thing.”
Mix Tape isn’t the greatest pop album ever (that’s Revolver), but it is about as revolutionary a Latino statement as you can make these days. Los Abandoned are as American as nachos — the opposite of what the anti-immigrant fools of America want you to believe. They’d like you to think Latino youth are essentially different from gabachos; that they’re not assimilating. But the proof is in the pantalon: Play Mix Tape at any club, and watch the fears of Latino reconquista dissolve in a biracial sea of shimmy shakes the likes of which haven’t been seen since Alan Freed.
Los Abandoned plays its CD-release concert and ice cream social, Mon., Sept. 11, at the Troubadour.