Brightly colored beats and subtle complexities make Orquesta El Macabeo's latest salsa album a bold and graceful masterwork.
As a general rule, I don’t tell people how to listen to music. It would do a disservice to Orquesta El Macabeo, though, if I didn’t give some strong recommendations on the proper listening conditions for the veteran salsa group’s latest album, La Maldición del Timbal.
La Maldición del Timbal is a fountain of music. Listen to it outside, where it can flow through the streets and lap at the feet of everyone around you. Listen to it in spacious rooms and let it fill them as you dance, alone or with high-spirited friends. Let it move your whole body.
Every sound on the album is bright, bold, and rich. Listen to it when you are surrounded by color, under blue skies or neon lights. Walk beneath a burning sun to the bouncing rhythms of opening track "Crucero" and the brass will warm you from the inside. When breezes pick up, "Armonía" has a tempo to match. A whirlwind of a song, it brings with it a sweeping sense of drama and fine-tuned melodic complexity -- not to mention a catchy chorus. More moderate tempos allow for a more leisurely stroll near the end of the album; the sun begins to set on "La buena voluntad", where the piano evokes a hotel ballroom. Sensual "Carrera" carries the kind of heat that only steams up from the ground after nightfall.
The orchestra itself is a unique one, made up of punk rockers and former ska and reggae musicians. Listen with an open mind, ready to absorb every single sound the group has to offer. Everything Orquesta El Macabeo offers is something new and filling, something a little outside the box. No track makes this clearer than "La maldición colonial", where an ominous incantation leads to a salsa epic, a journey across musical styles and time signatures that traverses city, jungle, and high seas. It's a lot to pack into a five-minute song, but the orchestra does it with a well-honed grace.
At eight tracks and 39 minutes, La Maldición del Timbal is a short album, lasting just long enough to show Orquesta El Macabeo's incredible range and relevance to the modern salsa scene. Though the music itself is often explosive, subtleties in technique pull the tracks into a tight weave of heartfelt brass, diverse percussion, and romantic keys. Lead singer Luis De La Rosa Solá brings a remarkable depth of feeling to each song he sings and is at his finest on "Rutina", a song that opens with slow, emotive crooning before warming to a swaying midtempo beat.
Salsa is not a style of music that fits every situation. This is not music made for a sulky morning commute, a windowless office, or dreamy pondering on a gray day. La Maldición del Timbal is an album for embracing garish things: light, color, heat. Listen to it, knowing that for all its mundanities, the world is full of adventure, of fire, water, earth, air, and spirit. There's a true life to it, and that's a quality to cherish.