Five albums into their career the Austin, Texas-based outfit Grupo Fantasma takes traditional Latin forms, blends ‘em with funk, tosses in a bit of this and that to break from the prison of tradition and arrives with its best record to date. Yeah, the hook is the group’s arrangement of “Because”, that most of trippy of Beatles songs, and it’s great and great fun and one of the things you’ll be returning to again and again on this record but there are many other treasures to be heard here.
Chief among those in the masterful “Mulato”, which may be the finest example of this group’s ability to craft a hook that is as insistent and formidable as the music which accompanies it. At just over four minutes it feels like the kind of song you don’t want to ever stop but stop it must in time to make room for the many other fine moments here, including “Problemas”, one of those tracks that calls to mind the exciting Latin music coming out of New York City in the 1970s as well as touching on some of the most exciting rhythmic and harmonic elements one might hear in the most adventurous moments of progressive rock.
Like any band worth its salt Grupo Fantasma can sound positively dirty at times as does across the grooves of “Roto el Corazon”, the keyboards and guitar lines sounding as though they were scraped from the floorboards of a car that’d seen its share of road trips, late night meals, and the other detritus that living brings. But there’s uplift and enlightenment to it too, such as when the horns really begin to soar and the rhythms really begin to take us to somewhere else. One has the feeling, listening to this record, that the studio is just a stopping off point for this act that the real power comes with the live show when everyone can cut loose and really let the listener feel the power of pieces such as “Esa Negra”, “Nada”, and “Cayuco”.
This of course isn’t your grandfather’s Latin music, though there are touches of that in there. This is a band that’s reaching into the future as it pays its respects to the past, one that recognizes that tradition and boundary breaking are equally important and all that. But more than that, like a number of bands of this ilk, this is a band that acknowledges the impact that the psychedelic era had on rock music, the kind of free associations that can drift from and between the speakers, the free associations that trickle from the mind as words and music swirl and surround and embrace the listener as each measure goes by.
It’s an orgy of sound at times but not one that leaves the listener cold at any time. There is plenty to listen to and feel here and were Grupo Fantasmas not up to the task of delivering the goods one believes the band would never have gotten this far. But this far they’ve gotten and so much more distance they’ll go because music this good has got to be heard. And by as many people as possible.