As much as any American band, Chicano Batman represents the diversity of the American experience, the idea that no one thing exclusively belongs to any one group of people. A group of Latinos from Southern California with Central, North, and South American heritage, they grew up listening to as much Ruben Blades and Rigo Tovar as Dr. Dre and Warren G. For the past decade, they’ve honed a distinctly American take on Tropicália’s sun-drenched psychedelic grooves, evolving from the meandering jams of their eponymous debut to tightly crafted psych-funk jams with a political bent.
It’s this perspective that shapes their fourth LP, Invisible People. The album’s thesis—“…a statement of hope, a proclamation that we are all invisible people, and that despite race, class, or gender we can overcome our differences and stand together”—is admittedly a bit hokey, but the songs themselves speak with considerably more nuance and wit, decrying “prophets for profit” and reminding us that race is a construct. The record’s optimism is rooted in love, the subject of most of its songs, and in its rhythm section, which makes even the most macabre tracks danceable. Because while the band has long responded to the contemporary political climate—2017’s Freedom Is Free is a direct response to the idea that it isn’t—they come from a place of perseverance, a dogged resistance to succumbing to the forces of evil.
To that end, Chicano Batman songs typically start with a vibe, the pursuit of a specific feeling. Album opener “Color of My Life” grew from a desire to make a song like Queen’s “Cool Cat” that boogied like Parliament. The demo for “Pink Elephant,” a song ostensibly about a predatory woman, was originally named “$40 Car Wash,” for the swagger that bassist Eduardo Arenas felt after getting an expensive car wash on his birthday. The result is a mish-mash of the ’90s hip-hop and R&B of their youth; think Ginuwine singing a D’Angelo song from a lowrider in a Warren G music video. With Chicanos. It’s a lot of fun.
But Invisible People is at its strongest when it gets confrontational. On the title track, Bardo Martinez’s croon bleeds all over the hook, and the verses plainly state axioms that only sound radical to those privileged by the status quo: “Invisible people, the truth is we’re all the same/The concept of race was implanted inside your brain….Invisible people, the truth is we take the blame/Fuck the system, it created so much pain.” It’s followed by “Manuel’s Story,” a frantic jaunt of a song driven by a spacey synth melody that belies its bleak narrative, which tells of an uncle who fled cartel violence to live in the U.S. It’s a vignette that distills the collateral damage of America’s drug war and Mexican immigration, a reminder of the people rendered invisible by capitalist political forces. Or maybe it’s just a tall tale your drunk tío likes to tell at the cookout. Whether it actually happened is mostly irrelevant.
The 2020 version of Chicano Batman has evolved from its original incarnation. The influences that shaped them are still present, but their perspective has shifted; this is the first Chicano Batman LP without a word of Spanish. They’ve ditched their most distinctive visual elements, like the wedding-band-chic of their matching ruffled suits—an homage to Latin ballad groups of the ’60s and ’70s—as well as Bardo’s shoulder-length mane. But while they may have shed some of the quirks that made them unique, Invisible People is far and away Chicano Batman’s most accessible record, with big, clean hooks to match definitive statements. A decade into writing songs together, they sound stronger than ever.
Buy: Rough Trade
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