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Alt.Latino spring music selections

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

We are smack in the middle of spring. And for our friends at NPR's Alt.Latino podcast, that means it is time for some spring cleaning. Alt.Latino host Felix Contreras has been sorting through a lot of music in his digital mailbox, and he's here to share some of the cool stuff he's been finding in there. Welcome, Felix. We jumped right into the music. What are we listening to?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: We're listening to everyone's favorite flamenco duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela.

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "DESCENDING TO NOWHERE")

CONTRERAS: You know, they have a new record out. It's called "Between Thoughts And A New World" (ph). And it's quite a departure for them because for roughly the last 10 years, they have built a strong base of superfans with their pyrotechnic displays of guitar chops, leaning heavily into flamenco. You know, they started as - they started music listening to metal, right? And all those 16th notes - they just transferred over to the whole flamenco thing. But for this, Rodrigo Sanchez is playing electric guitar, and they also have some electronic keyboard stuff going on. We're listening to a track called "Descending To Nowhere."

(SOUNDBITE OF RODRIGO Y GABRIELA'S "DESCENDING TO NOWHERE")

FLORIDO: Felix, you mentioned that Rodrigo y Gabriela built their career and their sound on acoustic guitar. I remember seeing them at the Hollywood Bowl, like, more than 10 years ago, and that was sort of the bread and butter. Do you think that fans will be put off by the electric instruments that they're playing with now?

FLORIDO: You know, I saw them a few years ago, and Rodrigo put on electric guitar, and nobody said a word, man. In fact, they ate it up. I mean, I think it just adds another layer to what they do. And it says everything about who they are. I mean, I've been a fan from the beginning. Their first record came out in the early 2000s, and you get a sense of genuineness from them, through their music and who they are, these two individuals. And I think it's because it's - the Felix theory, one of many - I think it's because of the acoustic guitars that have been their trademark. There is a direct connection between an artist and an audience when there's only an acoustic guitar standing between them.

And I think of all the great folk musicians from the '70s who changed the world with their acoustic guitars. And then I also think about the tradition of the trio - the trio, right? - in Spanish language music, three-part vocal harmonies, songs about being in and out of love with acoustic guitars. It's my own personal theory, but I think the warmth of the wood creates an automatic intimate relationship. And that's what Rodrigo and Gabriela do.

FLORIDO: And the electric instruments on the new album don't take away from that at all, you think?

CONTRERAS: Not to my ear, bro. It adds another layer of depth and exploration. It just makes their music even more fun.

FLORIDO: All right, Felix. Well, next up that you brought in a band that does not have what we would call a huge profile, but people who like them really, really dig them.

CONTRERAS: First, let's hear some music and then we'll talk about them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLANK CONDOLENCES")

THE MARS VOLTA: (Singing) I heard it moving through tiny blades of grass, nursed in the bosom where they circle the drain.

CONTRERAS: The Mars Volta - that's the name of the band. It's more of a collective than a band. But the mastermind behind them, from their beginning in the early 2000s, is guitarist and composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Now, together with vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala, you know, they've charted a singular path through music, specifically through rock. And as you said, their fans get their message loud and clear. They've been devotedly following them through their temporary hiatuses at different points, or they take breaks so Omar Rodriguez-Lopez can do his own prolific solo work.

This new album is a track-by-track acoustic reworking of the album that they released in 2022, which was just called "The Mars Volta." The new album is called "Que Dios Te Maldiga Mi Corazon," which means "May God Curse You, My Heart." This track in particular starts with Afro-Cuban rhythms. It starts with a slow mambo, and then they move on to a Santeria-inspired 6/8 beat. Check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MARS VOLTA SONG, "BLANK CONDOLENCES")

CONTRERAS: Then they settle on a rhythm called Afro.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLANK CONDOLENCES")

THE MARS VOLTA: (Singing) She will rise.

CONTRERAS: Other bands have done this. But, you know, when you're known for adventurous rock, these rhythms open up new ways to appreciate the band, the music, the lyrics, the singing, everything about it.

FLORIDO: That's so good. What attracts you to this band, Felix?

CONTRERAS: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, bro. You know, there are some musicians who just see the world in ways that we don't, and I always consider them - I call them visionaries, and Omar is one of them. I mean, he hears music through a rock filter, through an experimental filter. And he's collaborated with all kinds of musicians, like the rapper Residente from Calle 13. I saw them performing together once in Austin. It was an amazing mix of hip-hop and guitar shredding. All of his stuff - it's fun to follow his musical path. It's like following breadcrumbs through his mind. It's really cool.

FLORIDO: He's Puerto Rican, raised in Texas. Probably lots of influences there.

CONTRERAS: There you go, man. There you go.

FLORIDO: What track should we hear to close us out today, Felix?

CONTRERAS: They have a real cool thing called "Tourmaline." Check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOURMALINE")

THE MARS VOLTA: (Singing) If I had to find some stray hint to describe it, absent bouts of escape.

FLORIDO: Well, Felix Contreras, host of NPR's music podcast Alt.Latino, which is a weekly look at what's cool in their world of Latino music and culture - Felix, thanks so much for coming by. It's been a blast, man.

CONTRERAS: Hey, man, thank you. Thanks for having me. Good to talk to you again, bro.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOURMALINE")

THE MARS VOLTA: (Singing) If the catatonic walls close in on the hem again, pull the tether down for me. I've been hemorrhaging the sins of these lesser men. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.