El Guincho Alegranza!

[Young Turks/XL; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Some things in this world are simultaneously creepy and fascinating, like really bizarre rashes or crawly insects. Or simply take a look at the cover art of Alegranza!, the debut album from Spanish artist El Guincho. Gracing the cover is a parrot -- but it's not just any parrot. This one has eight tiny eyes staring intently at you. And when you're finally able to tear yourself away from this disturbing image, you look past the bird and see an equally trippy background of bright images, fireworks, and crooked houses.

The cover of Alegranza! speaks volumes about the music of El Guincho: fascinating, completely colorful, wholly original, and more than a little bit weird. And I mean that in the most positive way imaginable. Indeed, El Guincho (née Pablo Díaz-Reixa) is helping to change the face of so-called "world music" -- a term David Byrne hates, according to his New York Times essay (Tell us how you really feel, David). "World music" used to be uncomplicated, perhaps because its producers were under the impression that allowing too much "ethnicity" into the music would scare off potential listeners. But El Guincho throws away all this silly timidness, blending the prototypical steel drums with deep bass guitar strums on "Kalise," afrobeat with Caribbean rhythms in "Cuando Maravilla Fui," and surf music's relaxed rises and falls with intense bouncing vocals on album opener "Palmitos Park."

El Guincho is everything that you've heard before on the beaches of the Caribbean, in clubs that popularized reggaeton a few years ago, and even in the beats of some mainstream hip-hop songs. The beauty can be found in both its originality -- Díaz-Reixa seamlessly incorporates various traditions without sounding trite -- and the obvious enthusiasm that he has for the music he creates. It's no mistake that the title of this superbly fun album ends with an exclamation point; El Guincho has created an album that's relentless in its ferocious rhythms and beats until the very last track.

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