Album Review: El Búho – ‘Strata’: Cumbia infused electronica to celebrate and satisfy.

The Breakdown

You come away from ‘Strata’ with a glow of satisfaction because of its honesty and the sprinkling of hope across its grooves.
Wonderwheel Recordings 8.8

If anyone was going to justifiably lay claim to the tags ‘organic electronics’ or ‘natural electronica’ with any degree of credibility then that must be El Búho. The UK producer/DJ, otherwise known as Robin Perkins, has always partnered his environmental activism with his music, they are parts of him that in many ways have grown up together. His musical roots trace down to his Glasgow student days diving into the underground club and dance scene that throbbed to those global beats. A traveller post studies, living and jobbing in South America, he then worked for more than a decade at Greenpeace and still does, his creativity a key part of his contribution to their mission.

The cross-pollination of these two dimensions means El Búho’s sound world has always had a real foundation that takes it beyond the hip and happening. He’s a key member of DJs For Climate Action and the label he founded, Shika Shika, crosses borders with its vibrant commitment to pan global collaborations. It’s also home to ‘A Guide To Birdsong’ album series which raises funds and awareness of endangered bird species through inspired world music fusions.

No surprise then that Perkin’s own music in the El Búho guise takes nature’s way as a launch pad. Since his 2015 debut EP on Wonderwheel ‘Cenotes’ to the imagined travelogue of ‘Natura Sonora’ from a couple of years ago, his soundscapes have glowed with a human spirit and highlighted our real place in the natural world. To have consistently opened up such ideas through a vivid blend of electronic vibes, afro-latin rhythms, traditional melodics, field sounds and laid back beats is both unexpectedly groovy and undeniably great. Now El Búho’s new album ‘Strata’, out on Wonderwheel Recordings, is set to continue in that uplifting direction.

Perkins has always been a musician who thrives on gentle persuasion and from the start ‘Strata’ eases you into its journey with Floating Islands. From the rounded vibraphonic synth chimes to the keening violin it’s a dreamy drift of downtempo calm. Thick soothing melodies knit together, harp toned and tranquil as they dip into a light samba shuffle. The tune feels like a light brush with the spacious ambience of previous El Búho outings but ‘Strata’ is a recording that reveals new layers within his sonic world. There’s some pure pop celebration going on this time around.

Cenizas de Agua featuring Nita from Nu-Flamenco duo Fuel Fandango, trills in dramatically before rolling along to a flowing dembow cruise. Nita’s pure voice is rightly kept out front beneath a mesh of vocal loops and snippets conjured up from El Búho magic box. The still before the drop is inevitable but no less infectious. Another collaboration, this time with electro tropicalia originals Bomba Estereo, sees Brujería strike out with similar nu-pop immediacy. The mid tempo cumbia skips along frictionless, coloured by cooing ocarina and Bomba vocalist Li Saumet’s sparky, knowing vocal. Here we have a song about sorcery played with a glimmer of a smile, what’s not to like?

There’s also plenty of the customary El Búho, fusionista, in evidence on ‘Strata’ but if anything the range is pushed just that little bit further on this release. The relaxed ripples of Gentle Breeze hint at Arabic rhythms and world jazz connectivity with Michaël Havard’s snaking sax making turns last heard on Cochemea’s Daptone outings. Then there’s the packed three minutes of Piañuco that blends earthy Peruvian folk with bouncing Kwaito vibes but still leaves room for some massed brass and pumping accordion. It’s a shame this jig has to fade.

Opening the inventive envelope further, El Búho brings the melodic assurance of late seventies synthesists to add a level of melancholy to ‘Strata’. Alarma de Emergencia sounds a warning as the sirens cry and a serious tune tick by, electro-cumbia meets Jean Michelle Jarre maybe. More skanking but no less thoughtful, the sombre toned Llanto de los Cerezos creates an eerie dub world with Kosmische nimble synth lines and cosmic harps. These two tracks add a real narrative balance to the messaging on ‘Strata’, for all the lightness and contentment there is still an underpinning sense of unease.

Perkins has said that the album revolves around living with all the contradictions that the every day throws at us. It’s about appreciating the good things but also taking collective responsibility for the planet’s critical state. Such personal reflectiveness has always been part of El Búho’s music but perhaps on ‘Strata’ this is given more room to express itself. You can feel such openness in the warm harmonics and satisfying bounce of Timini, inspired by and written spontaneously after the birth of his second son. Emotions also run deep in the album’s closer Ley de Origen where collaborators Alejandra Oritz and Marcus Berg (aka Minük, the Swedish- Colombian folk duo) bring natural acoustic resonance and devotional textures to a song that simply blooms.

You come away from ‘Strata’ with a glow of satisfaction because of its honesty and the sprinkling of hope across its grooves. Serious but soulful, El Búho’s latest gives you space to think and time to take stock.

Get your copy of ‘Strata‘ by El Búho from your local record store or direct from Wonderwheel Recordings HERE

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