After a decade of musical excellence, Grupo Fantasma—Austin’s biggest and best Latin band—only gets better. Their newest album, El Existential, is the stuff musical legends are made of. New sounds, more lyrical themes, guest appearances from Curt Kirkwood of The Meat Puppets and salsa legend Larry Harlow round out the pieces for what is damn near a perfect album.
It’s hard to imagine the pressure Grupo Fantasma must have been under when making El Existential, given that their last album, 2008’s Sonidos Gold, was Grammy nominated and received critical acclaim from everyone who heard it. While every Grupo album thus far has been solid, they tended to be a little cumbia-heavy and each offered only a slight improvement from their predecessor. After listening to El Existential all the way through, it can honestly be said that they finally have a record that matches the fullness and quality of their live shows.
Just like every other Grupo Fantasma album, El Existential gets you dancing and moving right away with “Realizondo” (“realizing”). A funky intro, heavy brass, lots of percussion and funky guitars make up their signature sound, and it’s what you’d expect from any Grupo Fantasma album.
A little further into El Existential, you will stumble across the classic salsa throwback that is the title track. You’ll soon read about Fania All-Star comparisons or see the word “retro” in other Existential reviews, and this is the song they will point to as an example. The old-school organ and timbales, backed by the old-school salsa style brass, will make Fania Records fans proud.
For those who love Grupo Fantasma’s cumbias, “Hijo” (“son”) is going to be one of your favorite songs. There isn’t anything you haven’t heard before; it is just rare that a group masters the art of the cumbia while still being able to give it their own unique twist these days. You may be taken by surprise by the heavy electric guitar riffs being so prominent in a cumbia, but Grupo Fantasma makes it work. “Hijo” is what a modern cumbia should sound like.
One of the better surprises on El Existential is “Juan Tenorio,” which features piano and salsa legend Larry Harlow. It is a slower, darker balada that shows off the Latin crooner stylings of lead singer, and the song’s writer, Kino Rodriguez. However, it is Harlow’s jazzy piano playing that spices up “Tenorio” and keeps that classic Latin big-band sound.
The funkiest track on El Existential is “Telaraña” (“spider web”). “Telaraña” features a guest guitar appearance from Curt Kirkwood of The Meat Puppets. If Rodriguez weren’t singing, you would swear it was a track from Fantasma’s other band, the funk collective known as Brownout. Spacey guitar riffs, floating notes and an old school funk beat serve as the backbone of the arrangement on “Telaraña.” With this track, Grupo Fantasma proves that they still, and probably will always, have the funk.
While it would be easy to dissect every minute of El Existential, the bottom line is that any critic or reviewer can pick out any song on the album and praise it. Each and every song is a gem; it will just really depend on one’s personal musical preference that will determine what you will like or not on El Existential. Know that there truly is something for everyone on El Existential. For those of you who don’t listen to Latin music or have not heard Grupo Fantasma before, El Existential is the album for you. For current Grupo Fantasma fans, this is the record you have been waiting for.
Preview the song “El Consejo” below.