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el Guincho - Alegranza!

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Artist: el Guincho

Album: Alegranza!

Label: Discotea Océano

Review date: Mar. 26, 2008

The most interesting moment in Alegranza, a paw-tracked, parrot-plumed pastiche courtesy of Barcelona musician Pablo Díaz-Reixa, comes almost halfway through its 40-minute run, toward the end of “Cuando Maavilla Fui.” Suddenly, matter-of-factly, in the midst of a sprightly jumble of chanting and guitars and handclaps, enters a sad, languid croon, neither in pitch nor in tempo with the rest of the song. It gets resolved quickly enough, or at least subsumed into the energy of the fading original theme, but it remains arresting for what it is: the first moment of voluntary discord, a piece of genuine complexity in a work whose intricacy is largely superficial.

DJ Shadow used to do this sort of thing too, back when his music was better and more akin to El Guincho’s. Not that the two have much in common, beyond an ability to build resonant artificial worlds out of a fistful of samples; still, something Endtroducing..... did now and again, and that Alegranza might have done more often, is break from a piece’s continuity in order to instill a sense of trompe-l’oreille, to keep complacency at bay. That there isn’t much intervention like that on Díaz-Reixa’s part makes his album come across most of the time as colorful and elaborately patterned wallpaper. It’s the occasional deviation that makes you wonder if Alegranza isn’t meant to be something more.

By no means does it need to be, naturally. As a companion to real or imagined festivities, El Guincho makes as undemanding and consistently likeable a racket as Konono N˚ 1; Díaz-Reixa smears a skillful veneer of simplicity over his palette of caterwauling vocals and jingling percussion, and keeps the energy high enough to prove (as though it needed proving) that one man can sound like an entire block party. The lingering question, though, is whether that’s his intent – whether he’s out simply to contain multitudes, or whether he means to make sophisticated music by doing so.

For there are times when Alegranza feels restless in its grooves, when it strains to transcend the joyful collision of its elements in favor of something loftier and more artistic: that unexpected strand in “Cuando Maavilla Fui,” the rhythmic convolutions of “Costa Paraiso,” the masterful changeup three and a half minutes into “Kalise.” As entire unities, the songs don’t lack movement or intelligence; their evolution is just narrower and less rewarding, less like a well-planned progression and more like the way “Buenos Matrimonias Ahi Fuera” (which channels Scott Herren’s Savath & Savalas project distinctly) eventually buckles under the seasick lurch of its repetition.

It’s hard to know what to make of such attention to individual moments in an album so devoted to the overall spectacle; it’s harder because those privileged moments are spread so sparsely throughout. That should be no impediment to enjoying Alegranza in the spirit of easy revelry, whether or not it was intended as such. Still, for the ample charm and intimacy of Díaz-Reixa’s sprawling neighborhoods of sound, it’s a little disappointing that the big picture and the transient bursts of inspiration should coexist so erratically.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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