Los Planetas

Una Semana en el Motor de un Autobús

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Los Planetas took over as Spain's great underground alternative hope once Dover's English-language take on Seattle grunge exploded commercially in 1995. The quartet from Granada doesn't sound anything like that on their third album, Una Semana en el Motor de un Autobús, but Los Planetas are as much about sound as they are individual songs. That sound is a broad wall built by incremental melodic details mostly from interlocking guitars -- there's no real lead/rhythm guitar distinction and basically no solos -- from which J's almost whispered, dreamy vocals emerge. You may hear a little bit of R.E.M. or '60s psychedelia guitar jangle (but not really), a little bit of Velvet Underground quiet melancholy in the melodies (but not really), and even a little Ramones thickness (but not as fast or single-minded, and not really). The bass is the anchor and occasional extra melodic element, the drums the motor and chief source of dynamics, especially with new drummer Erik Jiménez pushing so hard. When Los Planetas add extra instruments, they opt for a three-piece string section joined on the nine-and-a-half-minute closer, "La Copa de Europa," by Bob Sullivan's trumpet. The songwriting is very consistent yet varied within that fundamental sound -- "The Playa" introduces a drifting, dreamy mood and the ringing guitar melodies of the up-tempo "Ciencia Ficcion" get close to an R.E.M. feel. "Cumpleaños Total" is all pushing guitars and J's hardest vocal before they quiet down and bring the strings in for "Linea 1" and "La Copa de Europa." You almost have to listen inside the music to hear how the riffs are handed off from instrument to instrument -- sometimes they overlap, sometimes they get extended, and sometimes they launch counter-melodies. But it's worth the effort because Una Semana en el Motor de un Autobús is an excellent, really well-balanced disc.

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