Audio Mixers: Frank Rodríguez "El Médico"; Toy Selectah.
Recording information: Anchor Studios, Kingston; Estudio Trece, Monterrey, Mexico; Experimental Workshop, Mexico City, Mexico; Red Bull Studios, Los Angeles, NY; Reggae Center Studios, Kingston; The End Studios, Brooklyn; UPT-007 Studios, Kingston; Vanquish Studios, Davie, Florida.
An ambitious project spearheaded by two of Mexico's most revered DJs and producers, Compass brings together a colorful panoply of sounds and styles from collaborators around the globe. Using Mexican and Latin traditions as a springboard for electronic-based experimentation, Camilo Lara and Toy Hernández have each notched remarkable careers, the former with his long-running Latin electronica project Mexican Institute of Sound and the latter with hip-hop group Control Machete and on his own as Toy Selectah. The longtime peers' first project together is a doozy, as they build, from the ground up, a massive multi-national collaboration that includes over 80 wildly varied participants, from Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hütz to MC Lyte to reggae legend Toots Hibbert. That's a lot of personnel to cram into 13 tracks, but it's a testament to both producers that Compass is every bit as fun as it sounds on paper. Hernández was quoted as saying that "this album is like our PhD thesis on global music production," which isn't far from the truth, though these joyous and quirky tracks come across as anything but academic. Bright Latin horns percolate over spry beats on "Explotar," where Californian rapper Kool A.D. swaps lines with Brazil's Emicida, Stereo MC's frontman Rob Birch, and New York tropical punk Maluca. Sparkling piano samples and vibrant hand percussion from Cypress Hill member Eric Bobo support another stellar Latin pop mashup, "Yo La Vi," which pairs Britain's Crystal Fighters with Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark and Ozomatli bassist Wil-Dog Abers. It doesn't seem like it should all hang together with so many artists involved, and it does play more like a mixtape, but running through nearly every track is the deft touch of its shepherds, Lara and Hernández, whose quirky Latin sensibilities thread the songs together. What's most impressive is how much each collaboration genuinely sparks something new, like on the infectiously bouncy "La Llama," where reggaeton singer Notch, Chicago MC Matty Rico, and Brooklyn's Ohmega Watts push each other to new heights over KutMasta Kurt's primo scratching. The spirit of newness and raw creativity seems to leap out of the speakers no matter who's on or behind the mike. Perhaps the only track that feels a bit one-dimensional is Toots Hibbert's reggae-soul cut "Crazy Conscious," which, aside from its wobbly mariachi horns, is pretty straightforward, though not lacking in quality. Overall, Compass succeeds in its joyful cross-pollination, capturing the rare sound of artists who seem properly thrilled to be thrown into the mix together. ~ Timothy Monger