The overwhelming surge of world music influences in indie rock music has been an encouraging trend, if one that bears the potential downside of sounding a bit gimmicky after a while. Vampire Weekend’s embrace of African music is a refreshing turn away from traditional indie rock trends, for instance, yet there was already a backlash by the time their album hit shelves. Still, if not for bands like Vampire Weekend or Yeasayer, the absence of global thinking in indie rock would only serve to accelerate its inevitable staleness, and if “2080” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” are what’s needed to keep things fresh a bit longer, I’m all for it.
Interestingly enough, when those very same African and Caribbean influences are applied to sample-based music, and given a touch of Spanish psychedelia, rather than North American indie rock, the result is something altogether different, and for that matter, even more invigorating. Spain’s El Guincho, a.k.a. Pablo Díaz-Reixa, kicks up a 40-minute Carnaval on his debut Alegranza!, an album that sets a course in multi-layered sampladelic euphoria, taking off from his native Spain and making stops in Kenya, Brazil, Barbados, wherever the sun is shining and the urge to jump and shake is irresistible.
Much like Portugal resident Panda Bear, El Guincho builds stunning soundscapes from repetition and often meditative-like cycles of sound. His sonic strata can often be hypnotic, and most certainly mesmerizing, but where the two differ is in the pacing. Panda Bear’s Person Pitch was a stunning record, though not exactly dance music, while Alegranza! is just that, for the most part. Even in the most muddled and trippy moments, there is an urgency to move one’s feet. Standing still through the duration of this album is simply not possible.
With a rush of applause, “Palmitos Park” comes rushing in like a Tropicália roller coaster, zooming up and down with a simple, yet high energy melody, like Os Mutantes on high speed breakbeats. Díaz-Reixa’s upbeat Spanish vocals are what make the song extra special, his energy soaring with every note. “Antillas” throbs and shakes at a somewhat slower pace, giving into an infectious Soca groove, and a chant that’s as much a part of the musical landscape as the creaky lo-fi guitar at the center of it all. “Fata Morgana” is a similar brand of carnival shuffle, with a steel drum loop that seems to emit pure sunshine, while Díaz-Reixa’s descending vocal lines provide a subtle contrast. “Cuando Maravilla Fui,” much like “Palmitos Park,” is based in more traditional song structure, with its energetic clacking beats providing a jittery foundation for Díaz-Reixa’s melodic verses between sampled voices. There’s even an operatic bridge toward the end, making for just one of many delightful surprises that pops up throughout the album.
The longest song on the album, “Buenos Matrimonios Ahí Afuera,” is also one of the most laid back, with oceanic rainstick percussion laying a breezy balance to the vocal samples. Yet, as is proven once again with “Prez Lagarto,” harmonic song-oriented vocals often suit El Guincho’s songs the best, drawing greater distinction between voice and music, rising over the layers of samples rather than becoming part of them. Still, whether building upon hypnotic cycles or breaking out into hyperactive song structures, El Guincho excels at capturing adventure within his music. Rarely has a home-recorded album been through so many Customs checkpoints.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.