Pop Negro (Young Turks)
Spaniard Pablo Díaz-Reixa made his name—or rather the name El Guincho—in the States in 2008 by making the great Animal Collective album AC failed to make at the time. Alegranza! was relentlessly upbeat, buoyed by exuberant percussion, eccentric samples, and joyous melodies, and sounded a lot like the knockout sequel to Feels that Strawberry Jam wasn't. The new Pop Negro repeats almost precisely the same musical approach but filters it through a radically different production style: The high-gloss super-clean digital multi-multi-track sound of '80s pop—especially the black pop, or "pop negro," of the title.
The production here is so '80s, in fact, that you can almost picture the pristine white Stratocaster that surely must have provided the clean single-coil sound of the guitar licks on "Soca del Eclipse." The saxy sax solo on "Muerte Midi" evokes the strap surely dangling from the neck of the horn player brought in for the session. What sounded like bustling live percussion on Alegranza! has been replaced by the snapping snares, fake hand claps, gated bass drums, and stereo-separated toms of the MIDI-rich, totally artificial sonic environment that typified the years between disco and neo-soul. The synths and samples here aren't analog funky, as has been the recent fashion, but digital sleek. From the faux steel drums of irresistible first single "Bombay" through the glossy chorus harmonies of "Lycra Mistral," Pop Negro never misses a trick. Veteran gloss-pop fader doctor Jon Gass was even brought in to mix the album, and in fact, the only thing missing for complete historical accuracy is a slap bass, or maybe a Fairlight synthesizer "orchestra" hit.
But Díaz-Reixa's composition style is so intricately layered, so clockwork perfect in its mesh of percolating melody and adroit rhythm, that the retro sound fits like a bespoke red vinyl jacket. Pop Negro is every bit the sunny pop treat that Alegranza! was, it just sounds like it was recorded 20 years earlier—not a museum piece but a loving, and lovable homage.