Grupo Fantasma: Existential Review
I have a love/hate relationship with Latin music. Well, maybe hate is too strong a word. Call it a love/meh relationship. On one hand much of the “Latin Sound” I hear comes from the Twin Cities radio station Radio Rey, a station seemingly dedicated to playing what sounds like an endless accordion loop (if I sound bitter it might be because the roofers working on my neighbor’s house share a singular dedication to Radio Rey – 24 hours a day 7 days a week). On the other hand you have a whole world of Salsa, Cumbia, Bolero, Mambo, Afro-Cuban, and endless other styles that are every bit as innovative and interesting as any other kind of music you can hear elsewhere. And one of those bands that falls far from the “meh” category is Austin’s Grupo Fantasma. The eleven piece band has been playing inventive Latin music for the better part of a decade now – a gig that has earned them bona fides from guys like Prince and Britt Daniel – both of whom regularly request that Grupo back them up onstage. Grupo recently released their fifth studio album Existential, which is an advised listen for a music fan of any stripe.
Existential blends a whirlwind of musical styles together into a melting pot of upbeat, highly danceable tunes. The leadoff track “Realizando” incorporates a straight up funk rhythm with a blaring brass section with squalling psychedelic guitar accents. “Sacatelo Bailando” blends Tito Puente era Salsa with a fiery guitar line that recalls Carlos Santana. West African sounding guitar even shows up in tracks like “Hijo,” lending an afrobeat influence to the tune’s reggae meets tropicalia sound. The record is overwhelmingly hip friendly with most of the tunes taking on dance rhythms that defy the body’s ability to keep still. Even slow burners like “Juan Tenorio” are instant toe tappers. And when the band really lets loose, such as in the sizzling brass of “Calor” or the psychedelic funk odyssey “Telarana,” dancing isn’t so much a suggestion as it is an order.
Grupo Fantasma will be playing songs off of Existential and more on their national tour, which just so happens to stop at our very own Cedar Cultural Center this Thursday. Grupo’s live performances are supposed to be legendary so I would encourage you to make it down if you can. Don’t be afraid of the “World Music” title or tenuous connection to the kind of music they play on Radio Rey – these guys have a sound that should appease any music fan, Latin or otherwise.
— Jon Behm
Grupo Fantasma: Site