Like their 1992 masterpiece Kiko, Los Lobos's Colossal Head is brimful with ideas and invention, as the group try on styles and sounds in unusual locations and odd combinations, stretching the envelope of acceptability several ways at once. Always a tremendous live band, they have the kind of facility that comes from peerless technique and wide-ranging musical vocabulary: they could knock out perfect polkas and meticulous mariachis all day long, but where would be the fun in that? Unlike more purist roots artists, they're unconcerned with notions of authenticity, or fidelity to approved methods: like Ry Cooder, they're more interested in blurring the lines between styles, and stumbling across the serendipitous magic that occurs between genres. It's an exploratory cast of mind: rather than labour diligently at the replication of a pre-existent music - as The High Llamas do, below - they search out kinds of music that have never existed before.
Colossal Head seethes with strange new music. Even the more direct numbers are given an unusual spin: the streamlined samba-rock of "Mas Y Mas" has a devilish fire and bounce, while the bluesy swing of "Everybody Loves A Train" is semi-obscured by a spoken vocal that's part Lord Buckley, part station announcer. The more complex tracks, though, have their own order of sophistication. The title-track blends stalking blues guitar with deep, burring horns and weird processional strings and vocals: the result, full of the awe and mystery of the title, is reminiscent of the Mexican "easy listening" genius Esquivel. Surging in a completely different direction, "Maricela" applies Steely Dan chords, clarinet and accordion to a slinky mariachi beat, producing something that seems to come from all over the world at once: equal parts pert cumbia shuffle and enigmatic Balkan dignity.
In a week when virtually every other release is doing its utmost to appear familiar, the questing integrity of Colossal Head stands proudly above the crowd. I'm willing to wager that, come December, it'll still sound like nothing else you've ever heard.