[14 October 2008]
It’s impossible to discuss El Guincho’s Alegranza! without making note of his home: the Canary Islands. When was the last time you heard of a notable Spanish pop star, let alone a Canary Islander? It’s a cheap tourist destination for thousands of fat, pasty Britains seeking sand, surf, and sunburns. Ethnically diverse, beautiful year-round, and possessing legendary nightlife, the islands are a perfectly natural source for the philosophy behind Alegranza!. It’s as though El Guincho has gradually absorbed the essence of his hometown over the course of his lifetime. Now full to bursting, he has released that energy in a rush of sunsoaked pop.
Opener “Palmitos Park” is a raft propelled by a female chorus of hums, bobbing up and down on a sea of hoots and hollers from some forgotten lounge record. “Antillas Anone” builds layers of cascading looped guitar and West African humming. The song is a refreshing blast of citrus before “Fata Morgana” calms with fuzzy organ and a self-described “delightfully simple melody” from an old educational recording, which in turn morphs into marching band percussion and stabs of steel drums.
“Cuando Maravilla Fui” opens with an absolutely durrrty looped folk song (It would be a shame if Timbaland didn’t cop this for something). El Guincho builds something else, with aggressive Indian dance rhythms and menacing vocals. I have no idea what he’s singing about, but he sure sounds testy. He turns up the heat, and the album’s sunny disposition scorches, if only for a moment, subsequently collapsing into a Latin waltz.
“Buenos Matrimonios Ahí Fuera” is the album’s most hypnotic and confounding track, beginning with a circle of children singing and clapping over shuddering snare drums. This gives way to tipsy merry-go-round music, with El Guincho’s voice grasping higher and bottoming out. It’s here that comparisons to Panda Bear and Animal Collective are most deserved. These vocalists have a wobbly way of singing from the gut, jamming together low bellows and just-out-of-reach falsettos—sliding up and down and ever forward.
Alegranza! is constantly rolling and tumbling, picking up detritus and debris like some kind of pop Katamari ball. No song remains constant for more than a few minutes. Most contain elaborate intros, outros, and interludes made up of cutting room bits and bobs. But it’s more than just clever sampling. If not for El Guincho’s command of unconventional rhythm, the record could be accused of copping the style of the aformentioned freak-folkers. The boys from Baltimore simply couldn’t have made this record. It’s too exotic, even for them.
So now that we’re on the verge of financial meltdown and you’re probably going to spend winter holed up in your depressing apartment instead of holidaying in Tenerife, the least you can do is pick up the album along with some fake bamboo from Michaels and recreate the spirit of the Canaries in sound.