It is often said that Romanticism, with its championing of folk art, arose as a response to the Industrial Revolution. A celebration of the non-professional “art of the people” seemingly untainted by the big, bad technology and creeping modernism seen to be swallowing Europe. What, then, are we to make of one of the biggest historical trends in recent music history? A desire from many artists to try and find a workable dialogue between folk art and technology. Many under the manta of the alt-country movement have dipped their toes (Wilco’s Jay Bennett period springs to mind), not to mention the ever increasing number of artists searching for a meeting point between folk music and blip-blip electronica.
Canary Islands export El Guincho pushes this contradiction further than most on previous releases, but there is a markedly different focus on his new EP 'Pirates De Sudamerica Vol. 1'. His first two records found a successful way of incorporating Afro-beat, Tropicalia, the minimal folk traditions of Spain and South America, calypso, techno, and systems music into one largely irresistible melange of strangely hypnotic party music. If there was a criticism, it was that proceedings tended to sound a little single geared after a while – largely because they were – but there was real craft in the way Diaz-Reixa disassembled and reconstructed his myriad sound sources into something so easy on the ear; a bit like a Martin Denny record with its BPM increased rather substantially.
The five tracks on offer here, however, are all covers of obscure or mid-level South American (mostly Cuban) songwriters of the 20th Century. This is a bit of a problem. The main attraction of his previous work was the way he applied his huge range of stylistic influences to achieve an almost trance-like state while actually employing only the most basic melodic and rhythmic material, but in choosing instead to cover other people’s more conventionally structured work, his ability to convey this disappears in a puff of (Cuban cigar) smoke. Stripped of this, Diaz-Reixa is left with little to do other than filter these admittedly lovely songs through a swath of effects and sprinkle his off kilter, self-consciously flat vocals across them.
It’s not that the results are particularly poor, it’s just that, in denying himself his natural working methods, the interest is pretty minimal. He obviously possesses a formidable knowledge of the music of the region, and his taste is immaculate, with Cuerpo Sin Alma and Mientes particularly lovely. Unfortunately, though, it’s little more than an exercise in ethnomusicological window dressing.