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Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas: L.H.O.N.: La Humanidad O Nosotros [Digipak] *

Album Notes

With La Humanidad O Nosotros, Illya Kuryaki confirms what their comeback Chances insinuated: this Mach II version of the group is definitely geared toward a Latin (understood as the broad genre defined by Billboard) audience more than an Argentine rock one. They even decided to change their name and album title to acronyms (I.K.V. and L.H.O.N., respectively), presumably for the Twitter generation. And it seems to work, too. Featuring appearances by Natalia Lafourcade and Miguel, L.H.O.N. was awarded two Latin Grammys: Best Alternative Music Album and Best Video for "Gallo Negro." True, if one is to consider L.H.O.N. as a Latin urban album, then it must qualify as a couple of notches above the par for the genre. For starters, it relies on real -- and really accomplished -- musicians rather than beats and Auto-Tune, thus making it stand out from a maelstrom of similar-sounding reggaeton producers and vocalists. These are not processed electro pulses from a can, but a live band that can funk and rock with the best of them, and the difference is telling. In addition, rather than conforming to a production mold, the tracks are wildly eclectic -- at times disconcertingly so. Lyrics are also exotic, as they speak the inimitable I.K.V. language complete with invented pan-Latin accents. On the other hand, L.H.O.N. does not fare so well as an Illya Kuryaki record. It is neither bizarre nor funny enough, it lacks a truly great I.K.V. hit, and it is drowned by the weight of its ballads. Contrary to what one may think, I.K.V. were never averse to slow moments: even their breakout album, Chaco, had a fair share of acoustic interludes. But while the ballads were just as weird as everything else on the album back then, now they sometimes get perilously close to bland. This is compounded by the curious sequencing choice of dividing up L.H.O.N. into blocks. It starts really strong with three tracks that showcase I.K.V.'s unique brand of Latin funk, followed by four consecutive ballads that kill the momentum. The funk is back in style with "Ritmo Mezcal" and "Africa," but their impact is again dispersed by the last four tracks: one slow jam, two acoustic ballads, and a midtempo closer. With better sequencing and a couple fewer ballads, L.H.O.N. would have been a much better album than Chances, because its several highlights ("Aleluya," "Gallo Negro," "Los Angeles," "Ritmo Mezcal") are better than anything on that previous outing. As it is, L.H.O.N. is a mixed bag whose degree of success will ultimately depend on listeners' perspectives: either a disappointing I.K.V. album due to a surplus of sanitized, mainstream elements; or a really good Latin urban album with enough quirk to rise above the rest. ~ Mariano Prunes


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