It feels as though fusion has been the cornerstone of music in 21st century. Fewer bands meld more than Buscabulla, their long-awaited debut LP combining soul, psych and experimental pop with Latin rhythms and Spanish lyricisms. Whilst a slew of artists fuse for the sake of exploiting whatever feels fresh in the moment, the Puerto Rican duo’s ability to craft with respect and an artistic integrity means they’ve discovered their own compelling sound. On Regresa, they soundtrack their bittersweet return home that yields less danceability than their EPs but conveys moving moments amid harsher realities.
Meeting in 2011 whilst both in Brooklyn, Raquel Berríos and partner Luis Alfredo Del Valle soon fell into a romantic and musical relationship. Their debut 2014 EP accrued hype after the couple won a Guitar Centre contest whose prize was to produce with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange). This and their 2017 follow up EP II built a catalogue of experimental synth pop love songs dedicated to their homeland. After 10 years in New York, the pair moved back to raise their daughter but were greeted with a country in distress following the devastation of hurricane Maria. It was within this economic uncertainty and familiar surrounds forever altered that Buscabulla set about writing Regresa.
Cultural commentary is raised from the outset in the form of a rousing call to arms for those returned home who left out of necessity. Debut single “Vámano” opens with a marching band’s drum roll where rhythmic vocal samples convey a mantra of sorts. Brooding bass synth gives depth to the more melodic portamento slides of overarching keys as Berríos’ strident vocals bear the scars of conflict and defiance. It all feeds into the band’s title translating to slang for troublemaker with a feminine feel. “El Aprieto” (The Bind) burns with a similar fire and seduction in its vibrant mix of Latin rhythms and abrasive synths. Luscious keys and Berríos’ descending scales tempt in blissful verses.
Deeper cuts like “Club Tú y Yo” bear the melancholic weight of the duo’s repatriation. Glassy, metallic synths feel familiar to those that pervaded Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns (2009) as downtempo lo-fi percussion reimagines a Brazilian ballad for today. The melodramatic chorus amplifies this dipping deep into nostalgic songwriting. “Volta” is a contribution from talented songwriter Nick Hakim, who is due to release an album of his own this month. The song is another lament moving into a deep, dank cut with low-end synths and a persistent ping. Everything is wonderfully woozy like a head with a hangover.
Buscabulla’s earlier EPs were stuffed with quirky boppers and their strongest songs on Regresa fall into this same category. “NTE” gushes with a strut-worthy samba groove and vocals that captivate for their rhythmic hooks as much as their melodic ones. “Nydia” is another propulsive firestarter with 80s sawtooth synths underpinning a brilliantly restless bassline. Whilst Berríos’ crystalline singing is well produced, the melodies fail to infect as well as its predecessor. The only overarching fault with the record is the missed opportunity for danceability. “La Fiebre” is emblematic of this, building with gooey synths and tempered moments of cascading grime before finishing up after a lone minute, well before you want it to.
Despite some compositional idiosyncrasies, compelling sound design is always present. The animated, modulating baseline and minimalist percussion on “Mío” (another Hakim contribution) doesn’t overcrowd Berríos’ singing. “Manda Fuego” is another masterclass in arrangement, containing a vibrant assortment of characters that come and go. The pre-chorus progression and pounding kick mirror the drive on M83’s “Go!” (2016) before distilling into more luscious keys for a dreamy séance. All of this underlines the significance of Patrick Wemberley’s (Chairlift, MGMT, Solange, Blood Orange) work producing the album, recorded entirely at Buscabulla’s home studio in Puerto Rico.
The back end is a statement in stylistic fusion. Swirly synths wash through the downtempo funk of “No Sabemos” with some similarity to the neo-funk of The Internet’s “Humble Pie” (2018). RnB samples and Berríos’ elegantly experimental Spanish prose, however, manage to push the track into its own. Closer “Ta Que Tiembla” doubles down on the mashups with soft-siren synths and Spanish rap over a pounding guerrilla beat. There’s more of the Latino melodrama with amplified attitude, reared by the vocals. The concise half hour closes with as stirring a movement as it started with.
In analysing and incorporating flavours of countless musical styles, Buscabulla have themselves discovered their own sound which others will similarly look to for inspiration. Achieved with integrity and respect for the art form, Regresa manages to convey thematic depth without an utterance of an English word in the process. Whilst fans may yearn for more danceability, it should be held aloft as one of the few true successful experimental pop releases this year.
Regresa is released Friday 8th May via Ribbon Music.