Former Elefant frontman Diego Garcia returns with his sophomore album Paradise. The summery vibe of the album might seem jarring at first in comparison to his melancholy debut, but it's a testament to his talent as a songwriter that the album doesn't sink under the blithesome weight of it all.
"Everything is a miracle. It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one's bath like a lump of sugar."
-- Pablo Picasso
Wonders never cease. Treacly romantic sentiment has never sat particularly well with me. Song lyrics such as, "The world will never understand / The joy between us walking hand in hand / Passing rivers, trees and streams / Kissing slowly in the the autumn breeze, my love", normally would have me begging for a snarky rhyming couplet to offset the cloying sweetness of it all. For once, I've encountered a musician whose passionate lyricism doesn't evoke a cringe-worthy response in me, mainly because it's so honest and heartfelt. The sorrows of life come and go and like Picasso, Argentine-American, singer-songwriter Diego Garcia has left his blue period behind and donned a pair of rose-colored glasses. The songs of Paradise represent the journey of an artist who has embraced the good fortune surrounding him and is unafraid to revel in the bliss of it all.
Formally the lead singer of the NYC-based, post-punk band Elefant, Garcia recently released his sophomore album and its appropriately-titled, sun-drenched lead single "Sunnier Days". His first record Laura, chronicled the emotional journey he embarked upon after losing the woman he loved, while Paradise sees the two happily reunited. Diego and Laura became engaged, they married and had a daughter in the years following his critically acclaimed debut. It's readily apparent that becoming a father and husband has affected the newfound, upbeat mood of his songwriting, and it's a testament to his talent that the album doesn't sink under the blithesome weight of it all.
Oft-compared to a young Julio Iglesias and Leonard Cohen, Detroit-born, New York City-based Garcia has successfully created a following for himself since 2011, crafting music that's imbued with the essence of Latin and South American love songs from the last century. The retro-leaning ambience of Paradise often sounds like a tribute to late '60s and early '70s romantic balladeers Piero, Jose Feliciano, Roberto Carlos and the aforementioned Iglesias. Don't be mistaken for thinking this collection of songs is merely thirty-six minutes of homage-laden mimicry though. Garcia's wistful tenor voice and the record's distinctly modern production values prevent everything from sounding like mere pastiche.
"Start with the End" smacks you into attention with its fiery, stomping intro and rapidly-strummed spanish guitar. I cannot recall a more euphoric opener to any album in recent memory. While I like my lyrical punch to be spiked with a bit more sardonic liqueur than exhibited here, Garcia has thankfully circumvented the less maudlin side of the genre.
"Tell Me" drifts by in an elegant haze and the wall of nylon-stringed, acoustic guitars that propel "Dónde Estás" forward are a beauty to behold. The following two tracks "Truth Will Ring" and first single "Sunnier Days" are the most radio-accessible of the entire set, the latter immediately reminding me of one of Belle & Sebastian's offerings. "My Hearts Is an Island" recalls the smoky, lounge-stylings of Swedish singer-songwriter Jay-Jay Johanson seen though the wide-lensed scope of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores from the 1960s. "My Everything", with its pattering drums, and rapidly-fluttering flamenco guitars has a distinct cinematic flair about it, and following track "Thoughts of You", respectfully pays tribute to the artists who influenced Garcia, while skillfully avoids becoming a simple exercise in nostalgia.
I can think of few moments when listening to Paradise that I felt the urge to skip a track, but the mundane "She Dances" proves to be the only misstep on an album full of memorable highlights. The song meanders on despite its churning rhythm, and the twee lyrics only pour a thick coat of syrup over the whole affair. Thoughts of his wife clearly inspired Garcia to write it, but the resulting burst of creativity is more pedestrian than anything that came before or anything that follows.
The melody of the appropriately-titled "Warm Winter Day" inadvertently lifts part of the chorus of "Day Ditty" by the lovely Scottish chanteuse Angela McCluskey and her former band the Wild Colonials. It's equally as pleasant as the song it so vaguely resembles without seeming like a facsimile, and thankfully erases the unfortunate memory of the previous track. The summery optimism of opening song "Start With The End" pervades the spirit of the Sondre Lerche-esque album closer "Darling Please", bringing everything full circle.
While the blue-hued, emotional depth of Garcia's Laura is not as prevalent in the lyricism of its follow-up, it's hard to fault any artist for being truly happy. Embracing love and all the joys life has to offer, he has successfully pulled off writing a set of songs that generally avoid cloying sentiment. Proving that his debut was no fluke, Paradise is yet another impressively, well-crafted solo album from a musician who should be commended for softening the heart of even the most jaded of romantic cynics.