Music Reviews
Pop Negro

El Guincho Pop Negro

(Young Turks) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Alegranza, the 2008 debut album by indie Spaniard El Guincho, plays like a dusty relic, a broken shard of an ancient artifact that inexplicably clicks into the puzzle of modern pop music.  It’s patient, methodical, and recorded with a cheapness that deceives you into thinking it is familiar.  I would have been more than content to see Pablo Díaz-Reixa’s pet project follow this same trajectory with El Guincho’s follow up.  But instead, Díaz-Reixa does something much more unusual and fulfilling: veer it into unknown territory and come out with a result just as scintillating, but in a different way.

That follow up, Pop Negro, shows its new coat of feathers immediately with a now-glistening production value and front-and-center dance beats – the steel drums and chest-pounding bass thumps of opener Bombay usher in a new kind of El Guincho and should immediately quash any further comparisons to Panda Bear.  Not dissimilar to the Afrobeat movement of bands like Vampire Weekend (but a lot more authentic), Díaz-Reixa pairs his knowledge of local rhythms and traditional call-and-response vocal styles with a modern pop musician’s taste for dance hooks.  Perhaps it was an inevitable transition, with Díaz-Reixa hailing from just off the west coast of Africa on the Canary Islands, that Afro pop would find its way into his Spanish dub and Tropicália bloodstream.

Gone, for the most part, are the chanting choruses and conga line rhythms.  In their place are electric guitars, vocal harmonies, keyboards, and synthetic handclaps.  For the Putumayo lovers out there thinking that this turns a genuinely roots-conscious indigenous act into just another trend-following blog brown noser, there are plenty of curveballs to be had at the expense of A-Punkers, like the tender saxophone that fills out the herky-jerky beat of Muerte Midi.  And the best song on the album, Soca Del Eclipse, is still overflowing with layered Spanish rhythms.

I have no reservations whatsoever championing an album that sounds very clearly like it is trying to break through to larger audiences.  This album deserves large audiences.  It is broad in its appeal, yes, but it is miles deep in its longevity.  Alegranza ultimately did not make my end of the year top-ten list in 2008, but it got a very long look.  Pop Negro, I predict, will also receive a very long look.  It is already the more immediately-affecting of the two, and I suspect its layered grooves will provide ample digging for a very long time.