Mushroom Pillow, Spain
by Enrique Coyotzi
One of the most critically acclaimed records to come out this year from Spain is El Columpio Asesino’s formidable fourth album, Diamantes, which we’ve unfairly overlooked for months. While we’re still eagerly waiting for compatriots Pegasvs' and Violeta Vil’s debuts, it’s a fact that, together with Odio Paris’ self-titled, this is one of the year’s greatest rock marvels to be released from that country. A work that has signified an evolution for the Navarre group in many favorable ways. After almost a decade, they’ve parted ways with Astro Records, moving to Mushroom Pillow (home of Triángulo de Amor Bizarro and Delorean, among others); the lineup of the Arizaleta brothers’ band has changed, and the sound of Diamantes is much brighter than any of their previous albums. With a cleaner production, surging electronic arrangements, and more direct lyrics and songwriting, this is their poppiest effort yet. The rawness that has characterized their music since the beginning isn't gone, though.
It’s remarkable how the new direction El Columpio has chosen has raised some eyebrows; it hasn’t been that drastic, though, especially if you consider how the band’s somehow always been in constant reinvention. But if you’re one of those who believe that the group reached their peak and perfected their aesthetic with 2008’s explosive La Gallina, first listens will probably be disconcerting. Nevertheless, the album—with its ideal length, just like La Gallina—is packed with a collection of sparkling jewels or, as the title indicates, diamonds. First single “Toro,” as many mediums predicted, became an enormous international hit. It’s also possibly their widest known song to date and has gained them a strong new base of fans. Featuring a simple bassline, a sung-kinda-spoken conversation between lead singer, drummer, and leader, Álbaro Arizaleta, and singer, guitarist, and front woman (at least on stage), Cristina Martínez, the song gently builds up until it sonically bursts (“no me vengas con que es vicio”) and emotionally concludes. Hinting at sex, decadence, and excess in its lyrics, “Toro” is already a classic, one that attracted many of our favorite artists like Algodón Egipcio, Dënver, and María y José, among others, to join forces and release a disc of remixes (more like reconstructions) of the track.
At first listen, “Toro” serves as the most memorable theme of the record. But those huge passages are identifiable since tortuous opener “Perlas,” which beautifully unravels while guitar work provides a floaty state of mind, taking off as the singer achingly reveals “un animal es lo que soy, con un enorme collar de perlas acumuladas”—a declaration of the faults of a whole life, a burden destined to be hanging from a defeated neck, yet valuing these trajectory failures as precious stones. “Diamantes” appears to be a new version of La Gallina’s “Aleluya,” employing an almost identical sung melody, but musically with a complete different purpose, as this piece’s krautrock approach resembles partially the likes of Can or Neu!, with a touch of psychedelia in the guitars. The album also features a trio of tributes to artists/bands El Columpio Asesino admire. Inspired by MGMT’s dense “Siberian Breaks,” “MGMT” is a track that originally lasted around 16 minutes, but in the end was reduced to four. “On the Floor” is a dance-punk rebuild of We Are Standard’s song of the same name, and “Cisne de Cristal,” sung by Martínez, a bleak adaptation of John Cale’s excellent “The Endless Plain of Fortunes.” Songs where electronic elements colossally collide are particularly striking, like the mind-blowing mid-section of “Corazón Anguloso” or closing mindtrip “MDMA,” which is trippy, glowing, and uplifting, with buoyant voices that dissolve as the experiment gorgeously shapes the state that this substance provokes. It’s a perfect closer that condenses the essence of the whole album, without the necessity to include lyrics. It speaks by itself, and it’s exciting, because it might be showing us a more experimental side by the Navarre ensemble in the near future.
Diamantes is an exemplary accomplishment which confirms how El Columpio Asesino keep growing and getting better, sharply adopting and incorporating their vast palette of influences into their compositions. This time around they’ve crafted their most accessible record to date, and this modification of M.O. has effectively worked, since now the group has obtained its biggest recognition and is playing in important music festivals around the world. Diamantes is a grower, it’s impossible not to mention how the ensemble’s become kind of lighter, but this has been progressive. Now they are finding new ways to mix dirty indie rock with experimental pop structures, therefore reaching a wider audience with this new sensible formula.