If you judge character by someone's friends, then it's real easy to hate Sidestepper. Snobby tastemaker station KCRW-FM heaps praise on them, and a few of the band's songs have already met the unseemly fate of becoming fodder for some horrid Latin jazz compilations. But with their second full-length, Sidestepper summon the strongest proof that the best sounds can survive the most questionable of company. Among the top achievements of Sidestepper—mostly British DJ/producer Richard Blair collaborating with Colombian rock star Ivn Benavides and a host of raggamuffins and salsa bands—is being one of the few musical outfits that seamlessly connect First World club music with Third World romance. That's a tough order, because there's a Grand Canyon-size dumpster full of world-beat CDs guilty of sloppily grafting rock or club music together with the ethnic sound of the moment. But Sidestepper sound like a witty, sexy, even surreal dialogue between the two realms, with the Third World doing most of the talking. They do it with a salsa/electronic sophistication, laced with slinky rhythms and perfect, suave seductions that sound mysterious, like on the track "Dame Tu Querer," the bratty fun of "Me Gustas (No Me Disgustas)," or even the simple and hopeful "Llegar." The dub mind expansions and reggae toasting give the mix a much-needed grit, a crucial ingredient for this sensual summit meeting of Gabriel Garca Mrquez's Caribbean and Graham Greene's tradition of English culture hopping. (Andrew Asch)

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