The story behind the title of Brownout’s new album Aguilas and Cobras, as band leader Adrian Quesada explains it, begins with guitarist Beto Martinez entering the studio one day during mixing. When he heard the fierce guitar licks and frantically aggressive horns, Martinez said, “Wow. That sounds like aguilas and cobras, and shit.” For obvious reasons, the last third of that expression was left off, but aguilas (Spanish for “eagles”) and cobras had a nice ring to it, and it stuck.
We here at Austin Vida can’t think of a more apt title for this leaner-and-meaner-sounding Brownout. There’s an undeniable urgency and aggression infused within the dance-ready 1970s-inspired Latin funk that spans these 15 tracks. From the punchy bass lines and aggressive horns of the title track to the dark seduction of “Tell Her She’s Lovely”, this album keeps things fresh and fast at all times. No worries of a sophomore slump here, as this album is more cohesive and energetic than their impressive debut album Homenaje.
Homenaje, a patchwork of music recorded over the course of a few years, was just that: homage, or tribute. On Aguilas, Brownout has carved out an identity that is diverse in sound but confident and cohesive in execution. There’s a cool swagger to this album that may have only been hinted at on Homenaje. Musically, Aguilas and Cobras is like the soundtrack to a wild Saturday night that begins with tequila shots at a downtown club, and ends with you successfully fighting a group of thugs to defend a lady’s honor and then going home and making sweet love by candle light for the rest of the night. All of this while wearing plaid bell-bottoms (well, not the love-making part, obviously).
“Another Fire” sounds like the theme to a ’70s cop movie. I picture a montage of high-speed chases and dudes with afros chasing down purse-snatchers when I hear this song. The hilariously titled “Chanclas de Ninja” has a similarly smooth yet aggressive vibe. And on “Olvidalo”, Brownout sounds more like the psychedelic salsa that we’ve come to expect from the band’s main gig, Austin’s Grammy-nominated salsa heroes Grupo Fantasma.
Yes, if you didn’t already know, Brownout is comprised of most of the same members of Grupo Fantasma. And what the critically acclaimed Sonidos Gold was for Grupo, sonically, that’s what Aguilas is for Brownout: a confident display of musicianship combined with a smart example of meticulously tight production. The songs on this album, though mostly instrumental, never feel wanky or overly jammed out, which can always be a risk with funk and big-band instrumental music. These are tightly crafted songs; the longest track on the album clocks in at 4:27, but most are three minutes and change.
The only negative thing I can say about this album is that there aren’t enough vocals. The battle-cry vocals on the opening track “Con el Cuete” elevate the song for me. It makes me wonder what Brownout could do in a live setting with more vocal work. Would it make the band more accessible to mainstream audiences that expect singing with their music? I think so. But regardless, this music is too damned good to not get noticed by the Latin music community and especially beyond. The percussion on a few of these songs even incorporates a certain hip-hop sensibility that’s likely to turn the heads of fans of old-school boom-bap rap records (the song “S.F.L.A.” comes to mind).
I thought Homenaje was as good as it was going to get from this band, but I was wrong. Brownout isn’t just a side project. This album is the band saying Hey, you probably heard of Grupo Fantasma first, but don’t sleep on Brownout.