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Spanish artist's newest album transcends language barriers

By Danielle Gewurz

Section: Arts

October 3, 2008

There’s something odd about listening to music in languages you don’t speak, and you listen intently to the syllables in search of familiar English, even though you know it’s not there. Obviously, throughout the world billions of people are making and listening to music not in English, but unfortunately, it’s not music we’re typically exposed to through standard media channels.

Recently, I discovered El Guincho, an artist who uses samples and simple, repetitive choruses and sings in Spanish. Even though I completed my university language requirement with 3 semesters of French and have almost no exposure to Spanish, I have been listening to El Guincho’s latest on repeat.

El Guincho is the nom de plume of Pablo Diaz-Reixa, a Spanish, Barcelona-based artist who grew up in the Canary Islands and is releasing his second album, Alegranza! in the U.S. on October 21, though it’s already been released internationally on Discoteca Océano.

Diaz-Reixa has produced absolutely gorgeous songs on Alegranza!, where he has created a form of music that feels unbelievably new while featuring catchy hooks and choral singing that provoke a niggling sense of deja vu. Structurally, the album is quite reminiscent of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, in that it has a similar hazy, sample-heavy, woozy feel, but perhaps Diaz-Reixa’s own description of his music as “space-age exotica” is best. It certainly has an otherworldly feel.

The first single, “Palmitos Park” is named after a zoo in the Canary Islands, and the song has a fitting video (which is an odd mixture of childlike paper cutouts and bright colors with coffin imagery). “Palmitos Park” serves as a perfect introduction to the sample-heavy mixture of tropicalia and African tribal rhythms that characterize the album.

The album really hits its stride midway through, starting with “Kalise,” which sounds like El Guincho singing to a girl named Alana, though that interpretation could be entirely wrong.

Nonetheless, “Kalise” once again brings in the repetition-heavy hooks that permeate this album, but they never get old in this track. The song is unbelievably uplifting, oddly danceable, and fast-paced, with clear African and Portuguese influences in the backing tracks.

The transition to the next track, “Cuando Maravilla Fui,” builds on this momentum, and Diaz-Reixa is clearly at his best on this track. A percussion heavy track topped with a catchy sample of a two line sung chant that opens the track and reappears throughout, the song ramps up the energy to gradually descend into a slow, deep croon and echoing drumbeats at its close.

The final standout track of Alegranza! is “Buenos Matrimonios Ahi Afuera” which features a gorgeous repeating chorus sample with Diaz-Reixa’s voice tracked underneath, lower in the mix and oddly compelling in its fight for your attention. Midway through, the sample drops out, the beat changes, and the song takes on a sort of submerged quality, with heavy bass beats and room for the vocals to breathe.

On the whole, Alegranza! is an album both familiar and wholly unlike anything else I’ve listened to recently. Sunniness permeates an album that is clearly heavily influenced by Diaz-Reixa’s upbringing in the Canary Islands and reflects the weather and sounds heard on the Iberian Peninsula through a prism of electronica and psychedelia. As fall begins to take hold, this album is a reminder of the brightest days of summer. It will definitely remain one of this year’s most unique releases. Hopefully the lyrical content matches the brilliance of the music, but either way, the album is solid and well worth multiple listens.

Diaz-Reixa will be touring the U.S. in November but is unfortunately not coming to Boston. Five of the songs from Alegranza! can be streamed on myspace.com/elguincho.

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