Spain’s Pablo Diaz-Reixa, aka El Guincho, describes his music as ‘space-age exotica’. It’s easy to see where he is coming from, given the kitchen sink smash-and-grab raid on world music that Pop Negro involves. There is more than a hint that Diaz-Reixa has absorbed the likes of Tom Ze and Os Mutantes. Yet it is the ‘pop’ part of the album’s ill-advised title that lingers in the mind. Diaz-Reixa is certainly not afraid of walking the tightrope between infectious and irritating. There seems to be as much gleefully ransacked from early ’90s dance music as from South American music here – and there is a manic, tartrazine energy that is alternately celebratory and maddening.
The most frequently deployed comparison for El Guincho is the saccharine synaesthesia of Animal Collective. Whilst there is a definite similarity in sound (Diaz-Reixa’s vocals bear a strong resemblance to those of Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear), there’s less of that group’s interest in the avant-garde. The odd time signatures are not a part of El Guincho’s musical space (although he does occasionally branch into polyrhythmic territory), neither is the group’s earlier preoccupation with feedback and abstraction. He does, however, lift handfuls of their exuberance and childlike whimsy. What Diaz-Reixa offers may, for some, constitute a sugar overdose.
Sometimes this untamed energy and excitement produces gleeful, irresistible results. The fantastic explosion of steel drums and kick drum beats on Bombay provides the album’s high point rather early in proceedings, whilst the sunshine pop of (Chica-Oh) Drims is possibly the album’s most rhythmically sophisticated moment, rampant with offbeat syncopation. Diaz-Reixa is not one for subtlety and is completely unafraid of clutter. His music is a defiantly happy form of percussive organised chaos.
There is, however, only a fine line between the zesty chorus of Soca Del Eclipse and something like O-Zone‘s infamous Dragostea Din Tei. This is most likely precisely the point – emphasising that there is a very fine line between infectious pop music with challenges and ideas, and the kind of grating, nagging pop music that frequently results in Europop smash hits. It’s all too easy to quickly praise one side of this divide while hastily condemning the other. El Guincho’s music proudly highlights this apparent dichotomy, making a mockery of supposedly discerning audiences in much the same way as Ariel Pink‘s recent experiments with unfashionable radio rock.
Nevertheless, in spite of its sense of fun and wilful provocation, Pop Negro may not be an album with all that many listens in it. Much of the experimentation is on the surface, and there does not seem to be a great deal of further depth or sophistication. Often, it is all too bright and too relentlessly ecstatic to feel truly meaningful or substantial.