Wax Poetics debuts “Roto Corazon”
“‘Roto Corazon’ is a dark, big-band cumbia track with Spanish guitar textures,” says Grupo Fantasma’s Greg Gonzalez. “It’s about heartbreak which describes a man whose been played the fool as he descends into drunkenness and sorrow. His descent is emphasized by the sound crackling, distorted analog synths and delirious trippy effects.”
Grammy-winning Austin band Grupo Fantasma returns with their new album, Problemas, on October 30.
“Roto Corazon,” premiering at Wax Poetics, is “a deep cumbia with Perivian chicha-style guitar/organ, and featuring big mambo brass with the baritone sax out front and some electronic touches,” says Pablo “DJ Bongohead” Yglesias, who wrote the liner notes. “Kino Esparza uses his expressive tenor voice to detail a romantic revenge story where the take-away is: a broken heart can go both ways. Now you will suffer as you have made me suffer!
Read more about the album:
A year in the making, the highly anticipated new album from the veteran Austin, Texas based band Grupo Fantasma transcends easy classification, blending international flavors from both far and wide. The sound is contemporary and edgy while also drawing on Latin roots music at its core. Interestingly, Problemas (Problems) manages to sound both familiar (integrating elements of heavy metal, indie rock, funk, hip-hop, jazz) and foreign (African, Eastern European, gypsy, South American, Cuban, Tex-Mex) at the same time, bearing repeated listens that slowly reveal nuances and deeper levels the more you hear it.
The best news is this is their most powerful record in their 15-year history to date, proving to be timeless and timely, as well as diverse and cohesive. It bristles with confidence, featuring a huge yet precise sound. Grupo Fantasma somehow manages to come off as heavy but sensitive, raw and accomplished, deep and fun all at once. This special hybrid quality is the essence and the identity of the band, reflecting their backgrounds and the environment in which they create their art, and as such, it makes them a constantly entertaining group that never disappoints.
For the first time ever, Grupo Fantasma decided not to self-produce. As bassist Greg González puts it, “We thought a new process would help us to find a unique voice and create a story. It would’ve been easier and cheaper to record everything ourselves and reuse the same techniques which successfully garnered us a Grammy and two nominations for successive albums (Sonidos Gold and El Existential) but the desire was to push ourselves in new directions.” While most rock bands rarely go beyond a quintet, maintaining equilibrium and staying creative with a big organization like Fantasma (9 official members and many guests) can be a daunting task when it comes to the studio. González elaborates: “Having a band this large with this many diverse approaches, opinions, and styles meant that having a producer on hand would be necessary to streamline the process.” After coming up with a list of people they admired, they settled on Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, The Blasters, et al), someone they knew would be a well-seasoned, sympathetic producer (as a horn and keyboard player with wide-ranging musical taste) who genuinely enjoyed the band’s oveur and was eager to work with them.
Berlin’s intent was to streamline the music as much as possible, to strip out the superfluous or busy elements so that the core of the band’s songwriting and unique approach would stand out, be accessible and clear. As González notes, “For our part, we felt that one of the challenges we frequently faced was the density of our sound and avoiding the urge to over complicate things, which can be easy to do with so many talented and inspired persons involved in the process.” The band also felt that it was important to keep the proceedings as raw and honest as possible so that the emotional intensity and the basic intent of the music wouldn’t get lost beneath untold layers of horn and percussion overdubs or weighed down by obtuse, overly academic arrangements. According to González, Berlin wanted Fantasma to make music that was uniquely theirs, to give voice to their experiences and influences, yet also not fall into being a merely Latin, Texas, or ‘World Music’ album that could easily be pigeonholed or written off as a calculated attempt at crossover.
The marvelous thing is this goal has been achieved, many times over. Grupo Fantasma walk a fine line: creating a unified, original sound that manages to be hip and current and yet in firm, proud control of their Latin and rock/funk roots. Problemas serves the listener a potent concoction that honors tradition with a contemporary twist, with music that is great to listen to but even better to dance to.