Music Reviews

posted: September 1, 2010

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El Guincho Pop Negro

XL Records CD and LP
El Guincho

Indie-pop wizard and El Guincho honcho Pablo Diaz-Reixa admirably executes a 180-degree turn on his new sophomore record, Pop Negro, yet still delights in the warm, beach-going fare steeped in techno, Afro-pop, tango, folk, Latin rock, and trance that informed his intoxicating 2008 debut Alegranza. Whereas the latter is comprised of a globe-spanning pastiche of samples, loops, beats, and vocals—all salted with occasional Spanish free-verse singing—the electronic artist’s latest eschews preexisting sonic matter in favor of completely fresh matter and played notes.

What hasn’t changed is Diaz-Reixa’s ability to craft songs that have it both ways. His summery tunes seem capable of igniting a tropical dance party as easily as they’re able to function as cutting-edge, laidback music designed for kicking back. And as infectious as the African, Caribbean, Brazilian, South Asian, and European blend of lightly swinging grooves and percussive effects on colorful songs such as “Soca Del Eclipse,” “Bombay,” and “FM Tan Sexy” may be, what’s equally intriguing is how Diaz-Reixa arrived at their creation and piece-by-piece assembly.

Seeking to recapture the sounds of Spanish pop he heard on the radio 25 years ago, El Guincho undertook a full-scale investigation into recording studios and engineers. He devoured biographies of top-name producers, yearning for insight into techniques as well as nuggets of inspiration. Hence, the lush, wide-open canvases of Pop Negro pay homage to sonic alchemists such as Tony Visconti, Nile Rogers, Quincy Jones, Marcus Miller, and Paco Trinidad, spilling over with dynamic instrumentation equally suited for small, sweaty clubs and gigantic outdoor festival settings. El Guincho doesn’t employ drums, for instance, to simply maintain a beat but provide atmosphere, echo, and texture. And while he still draws from many corners of the world map, the blends come off as if they inherently belong together, the calypso pulses effortlessly pairing with mainstream pop chants and celebratory Spanish-language gloss.

Think of the tropicalia-drenched Pop Negro as the equivalent of the Arcade Fire’s groundbreaking, interactive video for “We Used to Wait,” wherein new windows of sound appear amidst a larger framework, coming and going, much as if myriad radio wavelengths scrambled together simultaneously and all combined to yield a single exotic frequency.

A cool, refreshing, gleeful experience. All that’s missing is the rum and palm tree.

–Bob Gendron