Los Lobos's Kiko Makes Its 180g Vinyl Debut

Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Volume 3, #1, issue 11, Spring 1997 of The Tracking Angle, the print magazine I edited and co-owned with my publisher/partner Nick Despotopoulos. It was part of a Los Lobos album survey “Los Lobos on Record,” which analogplanet.com will soon publish. The appraisal of Mobile Fidelity’s new 180g vinyl reissue obviously is new.

Nothing Los Lobos recorded previous to 1992’s Kiko could have prepared anyone for this piece of sustained, surreal brilliance. Dreamlike sonic vistas, ominous lyrical horizons, mysterious musical crevices, and spring-like rhythmic compressions and extensions combine to create a dayglo, funhouse-like environment filled with familiar, but oddly drawn musical elements.

The chill inducing title tune, with its creepy, slinky rhythm, its haunted saxophones, its "lavender moon" and "big black cat," is a self-contained macabre vision more powerful than any MTV video. And yet, beneath the daring musical invention is a familiar bedrock of musical Americana. There's swing jazz, blues, rock and all of the other roots- including the group's ethnic ones, but they've been strangely, and wonderfully twisted.

The group takes on very serious subject matter but manages to do so without preaching.

If you hear The Band poking around the musical corner it is not a coincidence. Hidalgo and Perez traveled to Woodstock to help the group write songs before starting on this album. "Two Janes" sounds oddly familiar- like The Band's cover of "The Long Black Veil." If any Band album sows the seeds of Kiko it's Stagefright, which contains the mystical "Daniel and The Sacred Harp"—one of the group's more magical songs. But the influences range far and wide—intentional or otherwise, which is part of the album's fascination. Listen to "Just A Man" and you'll hear the Robin Trower edition of Procol Harum.

The Hidalgo/Perez team comes up with its most affecting, tender yet tough batch of tuneful songs like "Short Side of Nothing," and Cesar Rosas turns up the heat with the gritty "That Train Don't Stop Here Anymore," and the hard scrapple "Wicked Rain."

The playing is intense, the rhythms relentless, the musical choices breathtakingly fresh, and Froom and Blake brush with iridescent paint on a black velvet canvas achieving a perfect subject/object match. While not much sounds "real" in the natural sense, the sonic picture is smooth and clean, with outstanding bass extension and definition. Overall clarity is superb, the mix is masterful, and the overall spectrum balance is ideal, though the top end sounds tucked and rolled as intended. A masterpiece, period.

When first issued during the 1990’s vinyl drought, a UK release sourced from who knows what and pressed in Holland didn’t sound as good as the original CD mastered by Dave Collins, known to some as Mr. EveAnna Manley.

Mobile Fidelity’s new 180g mastering (also available on SACD) is far superior to that original CD in every way: it’s more spacious, more full bodied on bottom and extended on top. The recording is hardly a “band playing live in a room” and features a lot of co-producer Mitch Froom’s tape loop wizardry and studio tricks in service of the concept but it’s still a very good sounding, dynamic studio record. If you want to hear the band’s best sounding record, and one that’s also worthwhile musically, check out The Neighborhood (Slash/Warner Brothers 26131-1 LP) featuring John Hiatt and Levon Helm. Hopefully Mobile Fidelity will get around to reissuing that one as well.

If you’ve somehow not yet gotten into Los Lobos, this is the one with which to start the musical conversation, especially since for all intents and purposes it has never before been available on vinyl other than on the aforementioned not good sounding limited edition.

Please read the two part Los Lobos interview originally published in The Tracking Angle:

Part 1

Part 2

Music Direct Buy It Now

John G's picture

Good read!  My copy is on the way.


Have you heard the new Beck LP?  It's great!

Michael Fremer's picture

Just arrived.... about to play.

John G's picture

Interested in your impressions.  

Michael Fremer's picture

I do a very good Jackie Mason, good singing Dylan, Jackson Browne and a few others....

steinkampg's picture

Im surprised this isnt 2 LPs. Each side has got to be over 25 minutes. Does today's technology mean great sound despite that much time per side?

John G's picture

This was a new album I was unfamiliar with and upon the first listen to side one I was expecting to hear the runoff groove and instead was surprised with another song.  The side seemed to go on forever.  

I'm thinking the recording could have been made more dynamic if they spread it out to three or four sides.  I'm just finally glad to get it on vinyl, I wanted to get this years ago, but missed out.  Very nice album!

kdl6769's picture

Mike -- would love any further impressions you have on the new LP in terms of SQ.  Thanks.

Chriswilford1's picture

I just got my vinyl original from the UK a few weeks ago after looking for a NM or better copy for over a year. Oh well.  To me the UK pressing sounds pretty good but since I love this album I'll now be picking up the Mofi copy.  Interested to compare the two. Multiple coppies of favorite albums seams to be a growing reality for me these days.

kimi imacman's picture

I received my copy today based on another great review from you Mikey, God you're costing me loads!!!

However, I'm at a loss as to why Los Lobos are Los less?

I have the original vinyl you mentioned and the cover has the 'Los' of the group's name printed in white in small capitals in the middle of the 'B' of Lobos.


The band are called Los Lobos not Lobos, whoops Mofi you missed that one but the sound is sublime nonetheless, or should that be 'nonethelos'?


PS you commented that this doesn't sound like a live band and you're right, very much a studio artistic creation and it works well but I've just noticed there was a live version recorded in 2006 of the entire album and released on CD/DVD & Blu-Ray. From what I've heard on Napster it sound very impressive too.

Michael Fremer's picture

The original CD release is also "Los"-less so I'm assuming the Europeans turned it into a "Los" leader.