A record best judged with preconceptions cast aside and broad strokes accepted.
Daniel Ross 2010
An album that promises endless fusions of cumbia, reggae, Western RnB and countless other genres doesn’t initially fill the discerning consumer with too much hope. Readiness to experiment in such a brazen way can engender distrust amongst audiences pre-occupied with authenticity, but Ozomatli’s fifth album, Fire Away, surprises on all levels – it proves to be as much a series of intriguing genre experiments as it does a serious musical statement. Instrumentally, Ozomatli are on virtuosic form throughout, conveying nothing less than pure joy at playing their songs.
The relentless genre-hopping doesn’t help in threading the album together. Jaunts from the psychedelic to the funky to the bluesy, swinging rock of Gay Vatos In Love are uneasy but, by crikey, when digested individually they are impressive. In fact, that bluesy, swinging rock of Gay Vatos in Love is among the more grating sections of the record, but thanks to the combatant goodness of the lyrics, it somehow becomes a joyous celebration of liberation and lifestyles. The ability to lift the otherwise standard to the rapturous is an unerring trademark of Ozomatli.
Positivity occurs at full strength on the commercial RnB sounds of It’s Only Paper, indebted to its Western genesis (Ozomatli are an LA-based outfit) but equally able of breaking free from its constraints. The verve of the guitars and the conviction in the vocals are so strong that any generic conventions are rendered moot, the track’s strongest virtues emerging if you merely ignore what you might have heard before. Truly, happiness is their greatest weapon, but they are not afraid to let that happiness be challenged.
Strongest of all is the junglistic simmer of Love Comes Down. It comes the closest of all to a modern American rock song, and is imbued with tremendous depth thanks to the sense of space in the delivery. You can almost hear the precipitation rattling in the background, a gorgeous storm emerging from the high-register bass and echoed in the guitar feedback. Again, it’s a genre experiment that might encourage more sceptical listeners to err on the side of caution, but if you’re willing to let yourself be swept away, then the rewards are worthwhile. Ozomatli trade on this confusion. Fire Away is a record best judged with preconceptions cast aside and broad strokes accepted.