On the heels of Skyscraper’s relaunch, we’ll be reviewing a number of records from mid-to-late 2010 that we missed out on covering during our semi-hiatus. Sort of a “what we missed” series of reviews, emphasizing both some of the best releases of 2010 and some of the year’s most interesting but overlooked records. This is one of those.
When I first heard El Guincho on WFMU a while back, I could have sworn it was some obscure Animal Collective side project or Panda Bear B-side. Listening to that track, an effort from 2007’s Alegranza! (Discoteca Oceano), the only clue it was actually written by a young Spaniard named Pablo Díaz-Reixa and not some tech-savvy member of the American avant-garde were lyrics being sung in something other than English. It’s hard to get the chronology down exactly, but Díaz-Reixa appears to have developed a specific kind of au courant pop – a blurry, repetitive take on Brian Wilson and tropicalia – independent of, but concurrent to, American indie bands.
Ditching doo-wop vocals lifted from some basement-bin Jan & Dean knock-off and shimmery string arpeggios hijacked from Os Mutantes, Pop Negro focuses on straightforward dance-floor melodies, tight verses, and precisely formatted choruses. Gone are dense, stacked rhythms and gauzy bits of aural bric-a-brac. This album is nothing if not focused. El Guincho still relies on beats to hold a song together, but here they’re firmly in the driver’s seat – clipped, clean, and brooking no nonsense from the peanut gallery. Tracks such as the opener, “Bombay,” move like stripped down seventies funk, just as it was morphing into dour, Top 40 pop: syncopated and a tad off-center, just jittery enough to keep you guessing, but ultimately locking into place with a severity veering towards domineering.
A distinct lessening of chaos doesn’t necessarily make things more dull, but it does force one to contend with the vocals, which have never been El Guincho’s strong suit, and the lyrics, which unless you’re fluent in Spanish remain an unknown quantity. Pop Negro, a title reminding me of signs in European record stores labeling “the Black Music” section, clearly hasn’t been made for Yankee ears. Neither was Alegranza!, but that album dealt in a universal language: Kennedy-era beach living as conjured through a lifetime of cultural detritus mixed with hybrid forms of urban, immigrant American music. Pop Negro, on the other hand, as sure-footed a collection of contemporary global pop as it is, lacks that accessibility. Instead of bobbing along to “Danza Invinto’s” cold-filtered, eminently respectable grooves, I was left wondering if the song was about Tony Danza. And that’s a question no album should cause listeners to ponder.Visit: El Guincho | Young Turks
Purchase: Insound | eMusic