When I first heard Señor Coconut’s El Baile Alemán, I thought I’d stumbled upon pure genius. The second album, but first U.S. release, from Señor Coconut—Chile-based, German techno artist Uwe Schmidt aka Atom Heart—was an otherworldly collection of Kraftwerk covers. At times El Baile Alemán was jarring in its impeccable transformation of the minimalist German techno into more enlivened Latin rhythms, at others laugh-aloud funny because of the utter misshapen eccentricity of the entire project. However, upon first listen to Señor Coconut’s 1997 debut, El Gran Baile, I paused—not to ponder Schmidt’s ingenuity—but rather to compose myself enough to prevent the stereo from being tossed out the window.
While, again, I’m sure that Schmidt’s tongue is planted firmly in cheek at times, the opening to “El Coco Baile” is frenetic senselessness (reminding me of the worst of Pizzicato Five with a dollop of Latin) that smacks of an all-inclusive vacation in Cancún rather than an inspired trip to the mountains of Chile. Schmidt has some mercy, however, slowing the track to a crawl with more hints of the electronic fizz and foam that tip-off his Kraftwerk leanings, but then he’s off to Cancún again, making me determined never to venture back to South America. “Supertropical” has many of the same ups and downs: it begins with a beach-lite rhythm section recalling the worst ever Brazilian-influenced vibes a DJ has ever concocted at Ibiza, but eventually slides into a mutated samba cool that makes one yearn for the beach.
Honestly, had I not been so impressed by El Baile Alemán I’m not sure that I could stomach the worst of Coconut’s kitschy excess and continue listening. El Gran Baile definitely has some rewards for those brave enough to push through. “Upper Mambo/Lower Funk” is seemingly what would happen to those genres after a nuclear meltdown—the four-eyed, eight-limbed, glowing children-style freakishness of a Simpsons-like, cartoonish rendition of mayhem. The cha-cha-cha gives way to über-German forms before Atom Heart barks Spanish over the top of the increasingly varied collage.
“Pisco Control” is a lazier, both oddly elegant and ungainly, European-dressed stroll down a South American street; indeed, it recalls many of the feelings of anyone who has suffered through Pisco—a Chilean liquor made from Muscatel—inebriation. “Mambo.Val” begins an anomalous break from South America, as the Latin rhythms are spliced and suppressed, lying underneath a one-minute release deeply set in (soft) industrial, minimalist European forms. Similarly, “La Noche Cool” treads ambient water with only slight inclinations toward the furious Latin rhythms of before—Schmidt uses Latin percussion and slinkiness camouflaged by the resonant keyboard textures to form a blissful lounge piece.
El Gran Baile, in the end, is useful to those who became addicted to El Baile Alemán. It is certainly a work in progress where the Kraftwerk record was simply jaw-dropping. But after the early irritants of “El Coco Baile” and “Supertropical” come the ironic saving graces of “Suavito” which allow one to easily slide into grinning, well-studied German/Latin cool that makes Schmidt’s project most aware and carefully formulated.