Album of the Day: Compro Oro, “Suburban Exotica”

 

The Jazzy Belgian quintet Compro Oro—Spanish for “I Buy Gold”— play instrumental music with an Afro-Cuban tinge and an acute sense of things falling apart. Suburban Exotica, their second album, begins to feel like a small world, as the band works their way through an international songbook composed mainly by Wim Segers, whose vibraphone and marimba sweeten guitarist Bart Vervaeck’s sour-beer guitar. Matthias Debusschere (bass), Falk Schrauwen (percussion), and Frederik Van den Berghe (drums) provide the foundation, and Joachim Cooder adds a low-key layer of electric mbira on a few tracks.

Authenticity takes a backseat to shadowy pleasures. There’s darkness on the edge of the township, and the wheels come off at some point in nearly every track. You’ll get caught up in the otherwise jaunty yacht groove of “Miami New Wave,” or the Turkish reggae of “10 Dollar Jean Jacket,” before you begin to notice the shadows. The deliciously dark “11 Dollar iPhone” segues smoothly into “Mogadishu,” where Martin Denny-esque exotica is enlivened with Somalian musical flourishes.

Unlike Marc Ribot’s Cubanos Postizos, to whom the band is regularly compared, Compro Oro doesn’t adhere to any particular canon. Transatlantica, their 2015 debut, sounded less anxious overall—and at least a couple of their new songs, including “Dark Crystal,” which proceeds in a languorous 6/8 semi-rumba rhythm, and “Baobab,” which ruminates on rumba’s West Africa adventures, are downright lovely. By concluding Suburban Exotica with the sparse, sinister “Kruitvat” (Powder Keg), however, Compro Oro remind us that ever artificial paradise has its artificial inferno.

-Richard Gehr

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