I don't know about you, but I could go for a party or 200 right about now. If anyone can cram the spirit of 200 parties into one night, it's Pablo Díaz Reixa, the playfully energetic one-man force behind El Guincho. Díaz Reixa's music thrives on contradictions, and a core one is that his bedroom project isn't insular. Instead it's ready to overtake the streets with carnivalesque fervor. To paraphrase a sample that rubs up against Esquivel's zinging piano at the beginning of "Fata Morgana," all of the joy of young people in love is conveyed in the simple melodies of Alegranza! (Young Turks/XL).
Díaz Reixa has described Alegranza!'s congotronic chant-oholic delirium as an update of space-age exotica a restless journey that never stops at one spot on the globe. For some, such terms might set off cultural-exploitation alarms, particularly at a time when Anglo indie rock is rife with mannered, stiffly incorporated Afrobeat routines. But Díaz Reixa's interplay of influences has an autobiographical basis. Though he was based in the Barcelona barrio Gracia when he began recording as El Guincho, he grew up in the Canary Islands, where his grandmother, a music teacher, schooled him in music. His reverence for her is similar to the admiration that minimal-techno trailblazer Ricardo Villalobos has for his distant Chilean relation, the folksinger Violeta Parra. Partly inspired by an old Catalonian folk song by Los Gofiones, El Guincho's party is radical rather than apolitical: before adopting the El Guincho moniker, Díaz Reixa wrote a Catalan Socialist Party anthem. Alegranza! takes its title from an uninhabited land mass at the northeast tip of the Canary Islands whose name also connotes joy in Spanish. But one could just as surely locate Díaz Reixa's sound in the air, flying like a rare bird an eight-eyed parrot, perhaps around the eight miles of ocean that separate the islands from Africa. As Jace Clayton points out in a recent Fader profile, the El Guincho persona allows its creator to tap into both the soulful and impish aspects of the term duende. He's the manic musical corollary of the somnambulant Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra, whose movies such as this year's Canary Islands-set Christ tale Birdsong reenvision the traditional conquistador as a (to borrow wordplay from Michael Arcega) conquistadork. He's serious enough to not take himself too seriously: an admirer of Henri Michaux's and Guillaume Apollinaire's writing, he knows that only the committed will tap into the undercurrents of frustration and morbidity within his basket of cheers.
"Palmitos Park," the rollicking track that kicks off Alegranza!, was inspired by seeing a crocodile trapped in miserable conditions at a zoo. But the tension between freedom and entrapment in El Guincho's music is sublingual. Many of his songs shift from gleeful excess into exhaustion and then miraculously back into excitement again. This dynamic seems present in Díaz Reixa's overall approach to music (in 2007, he recorded an album's or CD-R's worth of songs, titled Folías, during one high night) and to life (he had to cancel El Guincho's first US tour due to fatigue). It's apt that his favorite record shop is a place in Gran Canaria called Moebius, because his music is a hallucinatory Möbius strip. Mandy Parnell's Young Turks/XL remastering of the original Discoteca Océano release of Alegranza! effectively accentuates this quality.
Now that this country is officially an Obamanation, El Guincho is ready to lead us in rambunctious chants over melding, melting 5/4 benga rhythms.