Album of the Day: Various Artists, “La Contra Ola”

The curators of La Contra Ola, a new collection of synthwave and post-punk from Spain, present their new compilation with a handy contextual sidebar. Punk rock, they explain, soundtracked much of Spain’s early ’80s, when the country was still emerging as a democracy. But punk was largely commandeered by the record industry and made safe for mass consumption. The country’s true sonic rebels, they explain, were pioneers of electronic music—a few of whom achieved success, most of whom toiled in obscurity.

La Contra Ola’s first two tracks set the stage for just how far-flung a compilation this is. Prolific Madrid industrial act Esplendor Geométrico, who self-released and distributed their cassettes in the early ’80s, open things up with “Moscú Está Helado.” It’s a severe dance jam that’s a bit of an anomaly among the group’s early ambient sound experiments—cassettes of which the duo both self-released and distributed to their cult audience. The second track, Zombies’ “Extraños Juegos,” is at the other end of the musical spectrum—a candy-coated, reverb-heavy surf pop tune with robotic drumming and chaotic synth interludes. Unlike Esplendor Geométrico, Zombies signed to RCA and experienced considerable mainstream success in Spain before their untimely disintegration.

There are some familiar sounds here: TodoTodo’s “Autogas” is a funky twist on Kraftwerk, while De Picnic’s “Jeanette Me Quiere” and La Fura Dels Baus’ “Mareâ” sound reminiscent of Afrika Bambaataa or Herbie Hancock tracks from around the same era.

More often, though, this is music that brims with explosive possibility. Derribos Arias’s “A Flúor,” one of their two excellent contributions, is a particularly gorgeous soundscape that nods at dub, punk, and flamenco. Diseño Corbusier’s tracks are minimal and focused, employing bulbous synths that echo across the full stereo spectrum (it’s easy to see why they’ve been rediscovered and celebrated in recent years). And El Humano Marrano’s “Himno” is a raw and youthful slice of punk energy—it sounds like Domi Delgado jogging in place while he sings—channeled through syncopated blips and bleeps.

Many of La Contra Ola’s artists were using the same new drum machines and synthesizers in their music, but they set off in any number of exciting directions. The comp, released by the fantastic Swiss imprint Bongo Joe, is a fresh and fascinating listen—and lucky for us, the La Contra Ola team describes this release as their “first act.”

-Casey Jarman

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