PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Grupo Fantasma: El Existential

On their fourth studio album, Grupo Fantasma continue to throw elements of funk, reggae, and rock into their danceable stew of Latin American styles and somehow make it sound completely natural.

Grupo Fantasma

El Existential

Label: Nat Geo Music
US Release Date: 2010-05-11
UK Release Date: 2010-05-10

Austin's Grupo Fantasma has been around for a decade now, mixing Latin American styles like salsa and cumbia with rock, funk, reggae, and whatever else strikes their fancy. They've made multiple appearances on Austin City Limits, and Prince regularly calls on the band's horn section to back him up in concert. Accordingly, on their fourth studio album El Existential, they don't sound like a band with something to prove. Instead they sound like an outfit that's secure, confident, and willing to try anything.

The album opens with "Realizando", which begins with a classic funk drumbeat that is quickly joined by Rodolfo Esparza's bright vocals, Latin percussion, organ, and electric guitar. Then the horns pop up, with Mark Gonzales' brassy trombone riding high in the mix. The song deftly combines funk and salsa elements into a nearly irresistible dance groove. "La Conozco" slows things down a bit into a loping cumbia punctuated by Josh Levy's baritone saxophone countermelody and Beto Martinez's lightly bouncing guitar riff. "El Consejo" is a huge-sounding slice of uptempo Latin funk. It's anchored by Esparza's expressive singing and would sound right at home in a '70s action movie.

And so it goes for the length of El Existential. Nearly everything the band tries works, even when they push the songs outside of their usual comfort zone. "Hijo" is a slow-paced cumbia similar to "La Conozco", until about two minutes in, when Fantasma's two guitarists turn up the distortion and drummer Johnny Lopez starts pounding the skins for a hard-rock interlude. Then they keep the distortion on as the song returns to the original beat. "Montañozo" combines a spaghetti western guitar riff with a syncopated latin dance beat and then throws in a Farfisa organ and a vibraphone for good measure. "Telaraña" features an extended closing guitar solo from the Meat Puppets' Curt Kirkwood to give what was one of the album's few mediocre tracks some much-needed intensity.

As a 10-member ensemble, Grupo Fantasma has a lot of elements to juggle. It's to their credit that they know when to feature certain members and push those elements to the front of the mix. The band has always done things independently, and producer/ guitarist Adrian Quesada clearly knows what he's doing behind the boards as well as on his instrument. Most of the time, it's Esparza (or percussionist/vocalist Jose Galeano) and his strong vocals that get highlighted, but the guitars have their time to shine as well. Quesada also handles the horns better than most producers. Whether that's because Grupo Fantasma has higher-quality horn players or because they just know how to make them sound great has yet to be determined, but chances are it's a little of both. El Existential should prove to be another boost to the band's already strong reputation.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.