Radio Zumbido Pequeño Transistor de Feria

[Quatermass; 2007]

Styles: Latin-electro crossover
Others: Nortec Collective, Bohemia Suburbana, Ricardo Villalobos, Dandy Jack SM

Juan Carlos Barrios is a Guatemalan native who left a bright career with the group Bohemia Suburbana several years ago to work on solo projects. Pequeño Transistor de Feria follows in the peripatetic footsteps of his last album, Los Ultimos Dias Del AM, integrating a variety of electronica and Latin styles in a clever and well-considered cultural statement. Barrios’ impressive versatility and keen ear for unexpected juxtapositions yield music that evokes a sort of rounded happiness (one that feels aged and earned, rather than petulantly demanded). His songs exude relaxed confidence. They swirl out of the headphones in bundles of poised, cosmopolitan energy.

Pequeño Transistor de Feria serves as a travel journal of the sounds Barrios hears in his trips between Guatemala, Los Angeles, and Barcelona. The liner notes claim that all the instruments were recorded live; however, the complex character of the sound Barrios elicits from the live cuts indicates that he invested significant time in the production booth. Snatches of radio recordings and ambient neighborhood noises integrate themselves gracefully into the mix, maintaining their natural vivacity without upsetting Barrios’ adroit balance of eclectic rhythms and instrumentation. He consistently sculpts space where his aural wanderlust and careful production can complement and complicate each other while sounding, for the most part, utterly natural.

“Pequeña Feria De Pueblo Azul” is a lovely exemplar of his rangy, unorthodox style. Over the course of eight unhurried minutes, the listener is treated to a gamut of unexpected sounds and rhythms that populate multiple levels of the mix; you can hear raw metal scrapings in the distance as a loping bassline thunks on the surface, and assorted keyboard, synthesizer and electric guitar tracks slither and twist through each other and through the honest clatter and clop of the percussion cavorting throughout the midrange. Listening to this cut is like watching beautiful couples dancing salsa (up and down an open-air, spiral staircase). The track cunningly disguises its maximalism; the listener has room to experience a reflexive feeling of movement through both space and time (movement that is obviously intrinsic to both music and travel).

Apart from the savvy production, I also appreciate the way Barrios has interwoven electronic and Latin music; his pastiche is seamless enough that it would be difficult to say he has appropriated one music into the context of the other. He isn’t purloining horn hooks to supplement a techno track (à la Villalobos), nor is he simply throwing dance beats under folk music to make an easy club mix. Rather, Pequeño Transistor de Feria serves as something at once more personal and more eloquent: an integrated view into one man’s musical imagination. Barrios channels the international influences that have shaped him and enables us to retrace them with him. This smart approach makes for one of the more fulfilling tourist experiences I’ve had recently.

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