Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

7

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image