Unified, and Unificados (VMG)
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 23, 2016
Did Vallejo just pull a Use Your Illusion? Simultaneous releases, sí, but Unified and Unificados divide by language, not compositions. Which itself clusters Austin's Latin rock siblings with the likes of superstar acts such as ABBA and the Beatles, who released some singles in different languages, or perhaps Greek oracle Nana Mouskouri, known for vocalizing in more languages than the U.N.
Sting's 1987 double album ...Nothing Like the Sun spun off the Nada Como el Sol EP in Spanish and Portuguese.
In English, Vallejo's ninth studio LP Unified untangles immaculate riffing in the service of a radio playlist that no longer exists: KLBJ local programming. If you think modern rock radio's been slicked to death over the past 20 years, Hispanic frequencies double that polish and timeline. Genetically engineered for FM, explosive opener "Hello to Goodbye" grinds like a demo from Alice in Chains' Dirt, including the choral hook: "So long/ I don't know what went so wrong/ I can't go on, it's all gone/ Won't you tell me, how we got from hello to goodbye." A synth eddy under the verses becomes an electro flare after the second one and grounds the tune in this century rather than the last one. A guitar matrix energizes the adjoining "Just Fine," but this time the chorus rises into a gleaming vocal yearn positively anathema to leather wearers. "Best I Can" loosens its electric axe play with added gusto, the weave between frontman AJ Vallejo and Heath Clark still Seventies Santana strong, but ballad "One Day" swings back the other way.
And so it goes: saccharine anthems ("Floods") and saccharine ballads ("Let It Go"). "Letter to Me" closes the LP more genuine, brooding just right in AJ's wounded vocal ("devastated, that's what I feel").
Conversely, en Español, "Just Fine" triumphs, because that same slickness is how it's supposed to sound on Mexican frequencies. Unlike Carrie Rodriguez's Spanish-language crossover earlier this year, AJ Vallejo nails the switchover without a hiccup, "Let It Go" receiving twice the energy in its second language, a veritable eruption. Midtempo moody, "I Run Away"/"Tengo Que Correr" falters in both languages. Despite the misstep, Unificados meshes beautifully. Those of us relegated to south of the great wall will pack said Illusion II.