I just want to be the first to say it: this record is a psychedelic masterpiece.
Well, at least on headphones it is. Out loud, it might be hard to appreciate, or even hear, how much is going on in this second album from Puerto Rican pop band Superaquello. It’s a lo-fi kind of brilliance they have, but I think it needs to be like that; put Dave Fridmann or Nigel Godrich in the studio and the makeshift charm of Bien Gorgeous would be lost. It’s better than okay that the keyboard sounds are sometimes cheap-sounding and that the panning seems planned instead of organic—in fact, it’s better this way.
Because if you’re able to be alone with this record, with headphones on or with a really great stereo system, these little touches come to life. At first listen, it sounds like there’s a bunch of extra sound on “Nave (Erase Una Vez un Almirante)”. But it turns out that the weird Gnostic mumbling is really Patricia Dávila saying clear phrases back and forth between the right and left channels while the rest of the simple spacious song keeps rocking on. The isolation of the two flamenco-sounding guitar lines at the beginning of “La Interrupcion” opens the door for the actual interruption itself: an annoying cellphone ring right in the middle of the track. And this sets the stage for the weird ambient break-ins later in the song . . .
Oh, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. What does Superaquello sound like? Well, you can refer to my review of their first record, Mu Psiqui Ta, by clicking here. I guess all I can add to that is that the band’s founding members, Eduardo Alegría and Francis Perez, seem to have been influenced by Stereolab and the B-52s and Café Tacuba and Sly and the Family Stone and the Elephant 6 collective and the Who and James Brown and the Violent Femmes and Blondie and Pink Floyd. Also, I can hear some references to salsa and merengue in some of their songs, but no one else I know can hear that, so don’t quote me. They do simple pop songs, and then change them to make them not-so-simple, and then flip them inside-out so that they don’t sound like pop songs anymore, and then pull a double-helix Mobius strip maneuver so that they end up sounding like pop songs again.
Or maybe they don’t, I don’t know. Maybe it’s very normal for “Farfiso (Su B Version)” to be a folk song for children with lyrics about intelligent ducks and butterfly snakes, with random arpeggios and synth breaks and a stomped-out sad coda. Maybe I shouldn’t be overly impressed with “Como Campana” and the way it uses its computer percussion and Junior Senior-like guitar lines to form something melancholy and lovely and touching. And maybe the gentle tapping and funky guitars and scratch breaks and stop-start strums and “whooo!“s and robotic precision and human glitches of “Stiki” aren’t such a big deal, except that they bring a huge smile to my face every time I hear them.
I know all these tricks have been done before. I just don’t remember them having them been done so beautifully. This is the way Mu Psiqui Ta worked, but Bien Gorgeous is more focused and more intense than that. Also, I’m pretty impressed with them for having a dance track here; “Diva” could actually work in a club, if it was a low-key cool club instead of a frantic attention-starved one. It sounds like a minor-key jam from Venezuela’s hilarious Los Amigos Invisibles or Argentina’s raucous Bersuit Vergabarat.
I just compared Superaquello to two of the best bands in the world. I’m not backing down from that, either. But unlike those groups, Superaquello aren’t trying to blow everyone away with jokes or monster riffs. They’re trying to ask the questions instead of making the huge statement; their home runs are all inside the park jobs instead of 485-foot smashes to dead center. And what is wrong with that? I like haiku better than epics, I like whispers more than shouts. The best letter anyone ever wrote was a note, passed to me in class. This album is like that note.
And the only reason I didn’t give this a 10 is because their third album, La Emergencia, is out now in Puerto Rico, and it’s supposed to be even better. I got it in the mail yesterday. Guess what I and a couple of beers are doing this afternoon?