The general vibe of duo Buscabulla is a chic one, lead singer Raquel Berríos’ voice airy over partner and multi-instrumentalist Luis Alfredo Del Valle’s retro synthwave arrangements in stylish co-productions. A fashionable aesthetic, though, is only a small part of what makes new album Regresa such an important and relevant listen. The titular return is that of the pair from their base in Brooklyn back to their home island of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. This bitingly bittersweet experience inspires their latest compositions.
The album begins with their departure as narrated on “Vámono”, a track marked by sharp drumbeats and smooth synths. Berríos’ voice soars as she reflects on the constant cycles of migration between Puerto Rico and New York. The home of her past is gone, the future is uncertain, and her path is already in motion. The duo land on downtempo “La Fiebre”, a playful, straightforward pop number with a subtly sexy bassline holding down the low end that ends in a polyrhythmic jam. “El Aprieto” has a breathless urgency to its nonstop melody soon countered by the gentle intimacy of “Club Tú y Yo”, an expression of unity in the face of feeling alone in the wider world.
Electronics of the 1980s-style meet hand-played percussion on tropical “Mío”, another of the album’s slower pieces and one that thickens in texture as it goes. The confident lines and beats of “NTE” — no te equivoque’, or don’t get it wrong — bring some serious heat. So does following track “Manda Fuego”, a plea for heaven to rain fire down on the devils loose on Earth that juxtaposes some of the album’s most soothing vocals and keys against an introduction of frenzied vocal samples and a slowly building set of intense percussion. “No Sabemos” sees Berríos again serene over a watery background of vaporwave-esque synths.
“Nydia” stands out as one of the album’s key highlights, a tribute to singer and television icon Nydia Caro with gorgeous grooves and luminous keys — a cool dancefloor number with just enough nostalgia to it. Final tracks “Volta” and “Ta Que Tiembla” lean into lush synths once more, the latter a final thought on the unknown ahead. “That which comes, comes strong / And when it comes, it comes suddenly,” Berríos remarks. It seems to encompass the sentiments that most dominate Regresa from start to finish, as the minds and hearts behind Buscabulla examine a journey to a home permanently changed by not only a natural disaster but the neglect of the government responsible for protecting and providing for it.
For as easy as Buscabulla’s sound is in grabbing an audience, it is the meaning and the personal commitment behind Regresa that gives it outstanding depth. This is a duo with a story to tell, and when they choose music as their medium, the pair flourish. Their music is hypnotic and engaging, musically and lyrically of-the-moment in a way that speaks to where they are in their creative lives now, rather than where they’re trying to be. That authenticity — along with dynamite production chops and musicianship, of course — is irreplaceable, and makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.