Album Review: Pop Negro

Pop Negro is the third full-length from Barcelona’s El Guincho (the name on his birth certificate is Pablo Diaz-Reixa). On his previous albums, he offered layers of sonic experimentation augmented by a hearty dose of sampling, all driven by Afrobeat  and dub-inspired percussion. His last album, 2007’s Alegranza!, was widely lauded, drawing comparisons to Animal Collective and Os Mutantes and earning a very respectable 8.3 from the heavyweights at Pitchfork.

Suffice it to say, Pop Negro has a lot to live up to, at least in indie music circles. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few stand-out tracks, the album fails to deliver on the promise of El Guincho’s previous work.

At its best, Pop Negro is intricate, erudite dance music. Opener “Bombay” is chilly but joyful, repetitive but exploratory, powered by eclectic percussive elements that speak to El Guincho’s Tropicália influences. Following on its heels is the beachy and utterly delightful “Novias,” which melds an infectious pop melody with a dare-you-not-to-bob-your-head beat. It’s cheerful and evocative, reminiscent of a hazy summer evening spent drinking and dancing around a beach bonfire. Later in the album, listeners are treated to the aptly named “FM Tan Sexy.” The track is sensual without going over the top, and would appropriately fit on the playlist at a smoky club on a Saturday night.

Aside from those three tracks though, the rest of the album falls disappointingly flat. The spare rhythms of “Muerte Midi” come off as halting and a bit disconcerting. “Soca Del Eclipse” can only be described as musical ADD. The melody meanders without any clear direction, seemingly losing track of its original intention and exploring different melodic options just for the hell of it, before ending abruptly, almost as if to say, “All right, never mind, let’s just try another song and maybe this time I’ll remember where I was going.”

The bulk of the album sounds like this — a grouping of tracks that touch on interesting melodies and brush tantalizingly close to provocative musical ideas, but ultimately fail to hook into anything truly interesting. There’s genuine interest in songs like “Bombay” and “FM Tan Sexy,” but the rest of Pop Negro, while worth a cursory listen, fails to find its footing.