The new music sounds like the old music. And that’s a good thing.
These were the first thoughts that entered my mind upon listening to the opening track off Present From The Past, the latest record release by Miami’s own Nuclear Valdez.
A few weeks ago I learned that the band was releasing this album on vinyl on April 22nd (otherwise known as Record Store Day, the annual celebration of independent record stores that facilitated the revival of vinyl records). Early that morning, I ventured out to my favorite record shop, Sweat Records.
I walked around passing the various genre categories handwritten on white placards on the shelves: indie, hip hop, rock, punk, world, re-issues. But it was at the new-releases section where I held my breath. There it was, Nuclear Valdez’s first album in 26 years(*), enjoying top-shelf status, a little product-placement bonus love by shop owner Lolo Reskin and the rest of the Sweat gang.
Present From The Past is a compilation of never-released music that Nuclear Valdez wrote and recorded in the late 80s/early 90s.
Listening to the album teleported me back to 1989 when these four local boys, sons of Cuban and Dominican immigrants, landed a record deal with Epic, the label that counted among its artists the likes of Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, and Sly & The Family Stone. That same year they released their debut album, I Am I. Their first cut “Summer” included a music video filmed in Miami that reached MTV daily-play honors for several months. It was that first cut, a political song about repression in Cuba, that established their identity.
“If you were from Miami and born to Cuban parents, you were a Nuclear Valdez fan,” said a friend the other day when we chatted about the band. The Nukes embodied the angst, emotion, and political expression of the Cuban-American experience.
Growing up Cuban-American, life inside the hyphen that separates the two nationalities wasn’t so level. Musical tastes varied. A lot of the music that I heard as a child was either Cuban or heavily tilted towards the island 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Celia Cruz, Willy Chirino, maybe a few tracks by Miami Sound Machine. It was the music of our grandparents and our parents. But I and others came of age in America, the birth place of rock & roll. The music in our hearts and minds was different, a product of our youth, our environment, our identity, our American identity. Nuclear Valdez was the first to fill the space inside the Cuban-American musical divide with their politically charged, soulful sound, channeling contemporaries like U2, The Fixx, and Midnight Oil.
After their debut album, the band released a second record in 1991 called Dream Another Dream. But the pure, folk-influenced sound changed. They brought in electronic machines and synthesizers. The music seemed excessive, over-sized. I lost a little interest in them and could only hope that a third album would resurrect them. But reportedly they were dropped by Epic after Dream. “It didn’t make sense for them to stay with us or for us to stay with them,” said an Epic representative in a February 1994 article that appeared in the Miami New Times titled “The Local Rock Scene is Dead.” (*)
So what happened? A press release on the band’s website states they got left in the cold by the record company as a result of the emerging grunge scene in Seattle (Epic would go on to sign Pearl Jam and release their iconic album Ten in 1991.).
The press release continues, “Disillusioned, we decided to pack it in, much to the disappointment of our many fans.”
This latest record aptly named Present From The Past chips away at the disillusion, like a gift from an old friend who once abandoned you, and it’s a reminder that this local band once displayed some real chops but more importantly still own their rightful place in Miami’s music history.
Welcome back Nukes.
Here is the video for “Summer” from 1989.
(*) End Note: A reader rightfully pointed out that in 2001 the Nukes released a third record after Epic but with only three members of the original band.
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