“I just wanted Alegranza to be a space age-exotica kind of record. Like Martin Denny, Esquivel, Attiio Mineo, Arthur Lyman, Jimmie Haskell and all that.”
Pablo Diaz-Reixa’s opening gambit is perfect. “Space-age exotica”, in particular, is a term that evokes everything that’s thrilling about what his music does in three words, while the canon of (mostly dead) exotica and tropicalia auteurs he names gave him almost everything he needed to do it. Almost. For deep in the bossa nova pomp and calypso shimmer of what Pablo’s el Guincho does – in the ramming refrains that come swinging like vines and the crashing waves of rhythmic persistency – there’s a void that nags and needs filling. Immersive and intoxicating, Alegranza (review) begs for your ears, your mind and your legs and its good enough at what it does to easily come away with all three.
“The kind of record you play,” continues Diaz-Reixa, “and it makes you feel like travelling to all these places but never stopping at one, and then finding an empty space in the middle, for you to get into it.”
Those last five words could be taken in numerous ways. For one, it’s a colloquialism confident of how impossible it is not to move some part of your body in time to the drums of Alegranza. Another comes when you recognise the sheer stretched physicality of the thing, the record leaping from the speakers with an urge to surround you with warmth, benevolent and garish like a ridiculous beach towel.
Video: 'Kalise' @ Saladestar, Barcelona; 2007
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Recorded in Barcelona, away from regular hipster outposts, el Guincho has to trap tourist ears quick, so there’s no time for him to play it cool with irony or coy with jaded understatement. And besides, the sun shines more than it ever will in London or New York, Portland or Berlin. Who needs irony when you’ve got the beach?
“I've never been more than a month to London, lived in neither Brooklyn or LA so I can't tell,” says Diaz-Reixa when asked if his station in Iberia affects the way he works. He’ll get to know London better when he visits in March for his first UK shows, though residency is probably not on the cards for a Canary Islander who admits that “moving to Barcelona was quite a change for me.”
Coincidentally, this time last year saw the first visits of Panda Bear's Person Pitch to UK shores, Noah Lennox putting me under a heavy spell at Brick Lane’s 93 Feet East. Comparisons to what remains, for me, the best album of 2007 persist, though Diaz-Reixa accepts them with a good grace that suggests he has nothing to feel guilty about.
“Oh, that's a nice one,” he exclaims when I show him this. “They are one of the most genuine bands I've seen perform for sure. I've been noticing that the point of view on what I do as el Guincho depends a lot on who's listening in terms of his or her background.
“I've had people telling me I sound like a Caribbean take on Animal Collective; like young David Byrne and Talking Heads; like a tropicália-n Disco Inferno with African beats.
“I have this other friend who's really into calypso,” he continues. “And he's always like, ‘Hey! Are you trying to be Lord Kitchener?’ or ‘This sounds just like that Mighty Sparrow song’, or whatever.”
Truth be told, el Guincho is more a musical magpie than a sparrow, dusting around for shiny debris washed up on the sand and strapping it to the shonky beach hut you imagine his music’s built in. A strange totem of gleaming pans and silver speakers, Alegranza is the more excitable twin brother of the album Lennox dreamed into existence in Lisbon, happening on similar influences and finding the post-war optimism and sense of adventure of space age pop in the internet’s ability to mess with traditional genre lines like a stoned saboteur.
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The result is that, as Diaz-Reixa says, people find the comparison point that’s easiest to match in terms of their own musical background – for the indie community, it’s Gang Gang Dance and Panda Bear's Animal Collective who’ve lead the way out into exotica and the blood-bound thrill of the tribal loop, with the latter two best representing the positive strain of that. And, Christ, is Alegranza positive.
“I think there is maybe some similar approach in a way, yeah,” says Pablo when I compare his work to that of other acts like High Places and Ecstatic Sunshine. “Like, working on major scales which gives that sensation of light. More light and less drama. Just trying to spread good feelings no matter which method you choose to express it.”
There’s only one way his record wants you to spread that positivity – tracks like the joyous ‘Palmitos Park’ and ‘Kalise’, wry hooting like Tom Ze, demand that you return their euphoric toil in danced out, stranger-hugging pools of sweat and endorphin. Listen close enough and you’ll hear el Guincho giving his as he conjures holiday camp music hooks, trying to unite a crowd of people who’ve spent some of the best days of their life together but who will only know each other ‘til the money runs out. To this end sounds are ramped, high and low frequency flung to the far ends of the register, Alegranza bursting from the speakers in juddering Technicolor fits, painting the warm night air with high contrast bass-binning and steel panning, strange voices driving the message home ‘til it’s lodged in your memory clear as a photograph from a childhood holiday.
“Maybe this el Guincho record is the first one I’ve ever done that’s getting more attention from outside of Spain, but I’ve been really into these sounds since I was a kid," says the local, nonchalantly, as the noise of the disco leaks out past the surf lapping at the shore. "We have this really tropical weather, the parrots, the palm trees... everything. So this is part of my life, I've been always absorbing it. My house was full of salsa, tropicália, African and Cuban records too so it was something that came out for me as a natural impulse I think. I inherited all that.”
Looking 'round at British inheritance - kitchen sink, sticky indie-club floors still reeking of mod, cold concrete, sodden bucolic - there's a sudden strange fondness for both that and Alegranza's distant climes. In a world of dying fads, I hope el Guincho's exotica will always be exotic. It wouldn't be the same taking holidays in Staines.
El Guincho plays a number of dates through the spring and summer - click here for up-to-date enlightenment through MySpace, or see below for UK appearances.
24 London Durrr
26 Dublin Antics
27 London Moshi Moshi night
1 London White Heat
El Guincho will also play at this year's DrownedinSound-associated Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona - your mouth, watering here.