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2008 is turning out to be a comeback year for rock en Español pioneers Todos Tus Muertos and Señor Flavio, formerly of the Grammy-winning group Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Both bands paved the way in the ’90s for Latin alternative music in the U.S. and then quietly retreated during most of the decade that followed.

“I liked having to start from scratch again, getting out of the mainstream and going back to playing in those underground bars,” says Flavio Cianciarulo, one of Cadillacs’ founders and the band’s main songwriter, on the phone from Mar del Plata, Argentina. It’s precisely that raw energy of the underground that tastemaker indie label Nacional Records knows how to appreciate. Home to such acts as Barcelona’s the Pinker Tones, Mexico’s Nortec Collective, and citizen of the world Manu Chao, the L.A.-based imprint is tipping its hat to the legendary Argentine rockers by releasing Flavio’s and Muertos’ new albums within a few weeks of each other.

“We are releasing them because they are valid now, in 2008,” says Tomás Cookman, Nacional Records label boss and founder of the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference.

While Señor Flavio’s solo album, Supersaund 2012, will likely please longtime fans of Los Cadillacs, the 13 tracks are by no means a rehashing of the past. Certainly there are traces of the brass-fueled, feral ska-punk overtures that put Los Cadillacs on the map, but for the most part Supersaund offers an evolved, forward-looking aesthetic. On some of the tracks, there’s a visual quality to the soundscapes that seems trapped under the patina of static moments. On the dreamy “Polaroid, 66,” Señor Flavio pays homage to a fleeting moment of contentment forever frozen in a childhood photograph. The cinematic “Gaumont” is an unsettling tale, spun by a haunting horn that unravels the torment of two lovers who go to a Buenos Aires theater on a cathartic mission to “kill love.” “De Story of De Loko Univers-love” is psychobilly with a slapback echo over sparkly acoustic guitar and an eerily meandering organ. “Tropicana 50” is a quirky, eclectic foray that opens with scratching, congas and synths. It’s anchored in a ’50s mambo groove and layered by frantic rapping, hip-hop beats and twangy guitar.

In the case of Todos Tus Muertos, the iconic rasta-punk outfit’s catalog has been out of print for 10 years and their music has never been available digitally. That all changes now that the band is signed to Nacional. Given a resurgence of interest in their music, especially with acts like Rage Against the Machine citing them as an influence (listen to “Mate” and you’ll hear why) and Foo Fighters working on a TTM cover, the time seemed ripe to drop a greatest hits record, says Josh Norek, Nacional VP and LAMC co-founder. “This is very good timing,” Norek stressed. “We felt that since both Señor Flavio and Todos Tus Muertos are iconic artists with reggae and punk influences, it made sense to release them within a few weeks of each other so that fans had the benefit of more easily finding both records.”

Muertos are working on a new batch of songs but there’s no word yet on whether Nacional will back those efforts in the U.S., though Cookman is open to the possibility. “We look forward to seeing TTM go back in the studio and come out with new music,” he says. “As a fan, it interests me to hear what they have to say now. I hope we do finish a full album and we get a chance to work it.” In the interim, the greatest hits album rounds up some of the group’s classic tracks and offers several bonus songs, like “Dale Aborigen” featuring Manu Chao.

The members of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Todos Tus Muertos all cut their teeth in the Baires underground of the early-to-mid-’80s amidst a thriving underground scene that exploded after the demise of the military dictatorship. “We were the reaction to a military regime that lasted many years,” explained TTM guitarist Horacio Villafañe. “We lived in a totally repressive culture that didn’t guarantee any type of freedom; where, in fact, 30,000 people were disappeared. They were very hard times and there wasn’t a music movement that represented us, so we had to invent one for ourselves.”

They named the band Todos Tus Muertos (translation: All of Your Dead) after the victims of Argentina’s dirty war and injected a confrontational social discourse over a hybrid of reggae and punk.

Los Cadillacs did their part in addressing social concerns as well, but they became better known for their uncommon fusion, much to the bewilderment of Argentina’s homegrown rock nacional, which was informed by heavy doses of British and American rock and punk. Instead, Los Cadillacs were informed by the rhythmic hotbed of the Caribbean basin.

“This happened very naturally, without any type of logistical planning,” Señor Flavio asserted. “At some point we realized that we could very naturally fuse Latin music with what we were doing, that it fit very comfortably. Beyond listening to punk rock, ska and reggae, we had started to listen to salsa. Celia `Cruz` had collaborated with David Byrne and, well, that was the link. But for the Argentine public at the moment it was something exotic and unknown.”

Los Cadillacs and TTM had transcended locality to become the icons of a generation of Latin American youth spanning the South Pole hinterlands of Tierra del Fuego to the toxic wasteland of Mexico City and then north of the border. They broke into the U.S. and offered a glimpse of the genre-bending sound of the future. Now they’ve returned to pick up where they left off.

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