Young Turks, Spain
Rating: 85 ★★★★
by Blanca Méndez
One of Coco Chanel’s most well known pieces of sartorial advice was “when accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on.” And, while Chanel was one classy lady, and her aesthetic an impeccably refined one, I am firmly in the more is more camp. I am that friend that, even when already wearing a gold Picasso jacket (yes, I actually own one) and gargantuan amber ring (yep, have one of those, too) will ask if you have more gold necklaces to layer around my already weighted neck. I will always take opulence over simplicity, and I thought El Guincho was a kindred spirit, at least in his musical sensibility. But with his latest, Pop Negro, it seems that our favorite Canary Islander has taken Chanel’s advice and opted for a more polished production. Unlike the wonderful chaos of the decadently thick layers of Alegranza! that was more Anna Sui than Chanel, we get a cleaner, more organized sound with Pop Negro, making it his most accessible work to date.
First single, and album opener, “Bombay” sets the stage for this change of pace with a sound more subdued than what we’ve become accustomed to. The smooth oohs give the track a warm doo-wop feel, while the lyrics and keyboards give the whole song a pleasant underlying melancholy, best encompassed in the latter half of the song in which El Guincho sings, “Solo yo te pido que te quedes en donde puedas alcanzar lo que quieras conseguir. Y en cambio tu me pides que me quede donde puedas vigilarme hasta que te canses de buscar.” In your wardrobe, “Bombay” would be a long-sleeved mini-dress. “Novias” is more like the resort wear collection. It’s probably a swimsuit or brightly colored maxi dress. The cuckoo clock chirps in the background of most of the song would have been incredibly irritating under any other circumstances, but here it merely adds to the song’s child-like, light-hearted feel and is a testament to El Guincho’s impressive ability to layer sound and percussion in surprisingly pleasing ways. The man knows what he’s doing. He’s also great at making repetition not only interesting, but an integral part of the music.
In “Ghetto Facil,” which starts with the repetition of enigmatic line “caballo negro en tu cara,” the most powerful part of the song is the declaration “eres mi chica de oro con tus labios de oro que iluminan todo.” And while this is not one of the repeated elements, I could listen to that line over and over without growing tired of it. The most effective use of lyrical repetition, however, is without a doubt, “eres un ladron en mi habitacion” in “Soca del Eclipse,” the funkiest and darkest song on the album. It would be the leather jacket or pair of stiletto boots in your wardrobe. “FM Tan Sexy” is obviously the LBD. Near the end of the album, we get a taste of the chaos of yore, with “(Chica-Oh) Drims.” The endearingly clumsy and awkward song is like an Arrested Development-era Michael Cera before he became a cliche. Or maybe more like Sam Weir in Freaks and Geeks. Either way, it’s not quite enough to satiate my thirst for cacophany.
While the album was evidently meant to be more put together, and it succeeded in that mission, my main issue with it was its lack of narrative. It’s trajectory was a very straight, marked path that, despite having a clear route, didn’t seem to have any particular destination. In this, Pop Negro failed where Alegranza! and the more recent first volume of Piratas de Sudamerica (which I would have liked more time with before the release of a new album), succeeded. Even though Pop Negro is not the sartorial equivalent of a multi-colored, multi-textured, heavily accessorized Claudia Kishi or Clarissa Darling wardrobe that I had hoped for, it is still a masterful work of psychedelic pop in that it manages to remain clean and sleek even with all the layers of percussion. It’s an exercise in restraint that would make Coco Chanel proud.