[Discoteca Oceano; 2007]
Alegranza! does two things that often appear separately in records you fall in love with, but rarely together: On the one hand, it reminds you of so much other music you love, and on the other, it sounds little like any of them. Spanish artist El Guincho (real name: Pablo Diaz-Reixa) makes music from Spanish chanting, thudding tribal rhythms, ghostly harmonies, and the bits and pieces of a thousand as-yet-unwritten pop songs. It's a combination that won't be appearing in any pop how-to guides any time soon. The impressive and probably unwittingly fashionable source material-- Afrobeat, dub, Tropicalia, and early rock'n'roll-- and the irresistibility of these songs can only briefly obscure the fact that no one else is really making music quite like this.
Alegranza! has already been compared extensively to Panda Bear's Person Pitch, and the two records do share a hazy, sampladelic love-in feel (hypnotic, interlocking sample loops; delirious, auto-harmonizing pop song choruses). I'm more strongly reminded of Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam, even though this record sounds very different: Both it and Alegranza! are spikier, less pristine, and less invested in images of the past. There's no sacred totem in Alegranza! to play the role that the Beach Boys do for Person Pitch-- opener "Palmitos Park" may sound a bit like Richie Valens, but otherwise El Guincho's songcraft resemblances are at once so broad and so diffuse that they feel osmotic rather than deliberate: Confused chants coalesce into brain-teasingly familiar vocal hooks, while quicksilver flashes of guitar trace echoes of melodies you feel you must already know like the back of your hand.
While the "What if...?" experiments of Person Pitch suggested a future and a past in secret communication with each other, Alegranza! is locked into an endless now: a fusion of songful simplicity and unpolished production wizardry that feels right more than it feels startling. It's nice, too, that this music resists the easy tag of "dreamlike"; there's a sharpness to the detail and to the buoyancy of Diaz-Reixa's vocals and rhythms that suggests a state of gleeful alertness. This is music for children, in the best sense-- wide-eyed and excitedly open to the whole spectrum of possibilities out there in the world, devoid of past baggage or future anxiety. (In fact, it's not at all coincidental that one of the best reference points I can offer for this album is British post-rock band Disco Inferno's final EP, It's a Kid's World.
There's something childlike, too, in the way El Guincho's chants and harmonies seem to shift between (relative) tension and release with delighted and purposeless ease, shuttling between the registers of high and higher for the simple thrill of confounding expectations, as if reaching a peak and staying there would be a cop-out. The madly hopping "Kalise", at first ridiculously and hypnotically repetitive, is ultimately exposed as a giant tease for an astonishing, panoramic chorus, whose multi-tracked "ah ah ah!" might be the most utopian moment in music you'll hear this year. There's little subtlety here: "Fata Morgana" may begin with ambient washes of sound, disconcerting looped string riffs, and abstracted wails in the background, but again it's a trap: the song soon morphs into a triumphant anthem, zooming across the stereo mix as if on a trapeze.
Most of all, it's Diaz-Reixa's intuitive feel for rhythm that marks out Alegranza! as such an unusual and enticing listening experience. Deceptively simple and surprisingly prominent in the mix, his drum patterns shock not just by their variety (how do you get from the charged booty grind of "Cuando Maravilla Fui" to the spacious underwater kraut-dub of "Buenos Matrimonios Ahi Afuera"?) but also by their suspicious habit of mutating almost imperceptibly from comforting to impressively alien: Check the way "Costa Paraiso"'s clattering tribal rhythms fold themselves into ever tighter coils of frenzy, like a crowd of dancers about to spontaneously combust. Rather than stretch out on endless expanses of sound, El Guincho's music is all about sharp and sudden peaks and valleys-- the idea isn't to tune in and drop out, but to revel in being surrounded by something larger than yourself, swept along on the rapids of rhythm.
-Tim Finney, February 22, 2008