Rey Pila, Rey Pila
Sony Music Entertainment, Mexico
Like the best dark comedies, Diego Solórzano’s debut album as Rey Pila is a masterfully crafted narrative that toes the line between tragedy and comedy with impressive agility and creates a functionally dysfunctional family of songs. But unlike most dark comedies in which the humor is masked by the morbid, the music’s cheerful melodies and buoyant rhythms almost betray the melancholy and disenchantment of the lyrics, while allowing the gloom to float just below the surface. This sounds hard to pull off (because it is), but it helps that Rey Pila delivers the vocals with a cheeky and irreverent, almost smug self-awareness, which is a departure from Solórzano’s less subtle days in Los Dynamite. For his latest project, he enlisted the help of producer Paul Majahan, who has previously worked with acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. The result was a half in English, half in Spanish, clever and misleadingly upbeat album.
With this new musical sensibility, the comparisons to Devendra Banhart are inevitable. And, yes, vocally they are quite similar. But, while Banhart wistfully plucks away at his guitar in the woods somewhere, Rey Pila wears out his dancing shoes at the discotheque. Yes, the discotheque. Just watch his video for “No. 114,” the album’s effusive first single. Outside of the opening sequence in which the backlighting makes him look like Jesus, Rey Pila looks like a disco king in neon lights with his white shoes, bow tie, shades, and luscious locks. The second single (and its controversial video) might not exactly be what you’d expect from a disco funk number, but “No Longer Fun” perfectly sums up the pert, sometimes sarcastic energy of the album. The playful bass line and staggered percussion that almost sounds like it’s tripping over itself act as a counterpoint to the song’s disheartened lyrics.
The album’s opener, “Sordo,” is an invitation to badmouth Rey Pila and his life decisions because he’s not going to hear it. The song’s measured handclaps and glittering synths build into a densely layered and grandiose climax that might make you feel like you’re going to go deaf (in the best possible way, of course). And the children’s choir singing the chorus of “Pictures of the Sun” evokes a certain nostalgia for the innocence of childhood, when we didn’t know the meaning of censorship and voiced whatever was on our minds.
In the second half of the album, Rey Pila becomes more forthright about the darkness of the album. “The Lost Art of Crashing Cars” narrates a car crash from the point of view of the person in the accident in what is the musical equivalent of a scene in a movie in which a character’s life flashes before his eyes. Then in a surprising turn of events, the album ends with a love song. A completely honest, no trace of sarcasm love song with lines like “your face reminds me of the future and the places I’d like to go” and “you see, this is as honest as I could be. You’ll get my life, you’ll get it for free.” Maybe that car crash/near-death experience brought with it some perspective. Whatever it was, “Our Project” is a lovely way to end things and to bring closure to the narrative of the album, which is a work of intelligent and entertaining progressive pop that you’ll want to listen to again and again, if only to discover more of its subtleties with each listen.