After the excellent 2008 release Alegranza, it seemed like El Guincho (aka Pablo DÃaz-Reixa) was set to stand next to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch in indie dominance, floating tropical samples into dance-able, trancey soundscapes, while also sounding like something playing from a dusty attic somewhere in Spain. But then, an utter lack of news from the El Guincho camp persisted for about two years. Then, Pop Negro cropped up, an exciting and largely different album from its predecessor.
From the onset of opening track, “Bombay”, Pop Negro is almost in a different part of the world. Rather than the lo-fi, grainy radio sound quality of the first record, this one is crisp, almost dancehall. The track’s title is presumably a reference to the Indian city, but there’s not much raga in the mix, instead composed of a spacy dose of steel drum and synth. The only element that smacks of the last record or the Animal Collective tradition that it seemed so indebted to is the addition of far-off, wordless oohs and aahs. I don’t mean to suggest that Alegranza sounded like an Animal Collective record. Rather, it sounded like a record by someone who had listened to a lot of Animal Collective, and decided to use some of their techniques.
The great “Novias” follows on the album, a little closer to the tropicalia El Guincho listeners would be familiar with. However, there’s a lot less percussion in the mix, a lot more vocal melody. There’s something about the bass and guitar parts that come close to the territory Vampire Weekend and “You Can Call Me Al” play in, but it comes off so much more fluently from DÃaz-Reixa, seeing as he comes from the Canary Islands, a place close enough both to North Africa and Spain to reasonably come off with both styles.
In some ways, Alegranza seemed to use traditional sounding samples to make foggy, modern, trancey loops of music, while Pop Negro uses modern instruments yet seems somewhat more traditional in its song structures. “Soca del Eclipse” has a straightforward verse, chorus, with samba-esque rhythms and a crooning saxophone. “Lycra Mistral” is almost too cheesy, echos of bad 80s pop burrowing into the song’s core. The swinging synth comes closest to Yeasayer, but the rhythm is far more standard dance-pop. “FM Tan Sexy” is a particularly funky track that stops and starts, its falsetto howls one of the album’s strongest moments.
“Muerte Midi” skips the same way “FM” does, but the midi-sax line and matching vocals slow it all down a little. The sax solo that comes later in the track is big, aching, dramatic. Everything matches in pace and tone, lacking an interesting contrast to add some depth to an otherwise strong track. There’s a lot of silence there, too, bold, empty space between blips of music. The Rihanna-style looped vocal sample that opens “(Chica-Oh) Drums” quickly fades (thankfully). “Danza Invinto” closes the album in grand, polyrhythmic, synth-happy fashion, layer upon layer of electronic music and percussion wobbling in and out of reach.
So much of this album is perfect summer BBQ music, which makes it a shame that it couldn’t be released just a few months sooner. There’s a lot to latch onto here, a lot to listen to. There are also, unfortunately, a few unfortunate stumbles into overly cheesy pop music. But, for the most part, this is a strong, intensely different follow-up to DÃaz-Reixa’s debut. There’s not as much entrancing ambience, but the powerfully fun dance component makes up for most of that.