If You Need Some Joy in Your Life, Try Insólito UniVerso's Vibrant New Song
The Paris-based Venezuelan band meld the traditional musics of their home country with colorful psychedelic new forms, their single "El vuelo del Gabán" shows just how wonderful the results can be.
Photo by Lya Bonilla
It can sometimes feel like there is no rest from the heaviness of the world. We're locked onto the internet, forced to stare down the barrel of the people who cause us or wish to cause us harm—held captive in a giant room of strangers yelling about the (real or perceived) end of the world. Even pop songs, traditionally the realm of gleaming escapism, are getting slower and sadder—the minds behind the factory admit as much. Pop doyen and doula Bonnie McKee, said to Rolling Stone last year that "as the sociopolitical climate got darker, people just weren’t in the mood to hear some upbeat bop."
There are some though, that stand in rebuke to this, that make colorful, ecstatic music even in the face of turmoil—which makes for a magnetic presence amid the world's grim grays. It's part of why I'm so taken with the Paris-based Venezuelan band Insólito UniVerso—even when they play slower spaced out numbers there's this sense of joy that runs in the DNA of their music, something rapturous even in the sadness.
Earlier this year, they debuted on Olindo Records with a seven-inch that pretty handily demonstrates what they're about. They melt together traditional folk genres from their home country with the colorful sounds contemporary psychedelia and dizzying electronics, a combination that feels at once totally new and completely timeless. The A-side "Vuelve" is sprightly and fluttering, like a prism refracting a Francois Hardy song, and the flip is a bit more downcast, but each are full of life and light. Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab, a band that knows something about giving lysergic life to old forms, described the band's music as a "delicate and exhilarating fragrance," which points at how their appeal almost goes beyond words to other senses. It's a strange delight.
On November 16, the quartet will release their debut album La Candela del Río, which criss-crosses between these modes with blissful abandon. It's both euphoric and mystifying, sometimes both at once, as on "El vuelo del Gabán," the single they're releasing today. It's a track written by a family friend of keys player Edgar Bonilla named José Gregorio "Goyo" López and transcribed by Bonilla's cousin Juan Sebastian Jimenez after the pair heard it at family gatherings back in Venezuela.
"I remember [Lopez] from family gatherings where [family members and friends] used to casually perform," He always struck me as an interesting character and as a pure musician who played his instrument in a very particular way. We used to talk about music a lot as he knew I was interested in the piano and he would show me classical compositions by Bach and other baroque composers. This specific composition was never recorded and was luckily transcribed by my cousin, because Goyo didn't write music."
Bonilla re-arranged the piece for Insólito UniVerso's instrumentation, and even in its current form it bears some of its history. The track is a joropo, a popular folk style in Venezuela, but it bears the hallmarks of autodidact proficiency—the electric melodic movements of someone who shirks institutional knowledge in favor of self-directed experimentation. I don't want to assume too much, but knowing that Goyo would play baroque compositions but didn't write music, feels telling about the sort of musician he was, and the sort of musicians Insólito UniVerso strive to be. They maintain reverence for the past, but they do it on their own terms, embracing the jubilance and vibrance of the pieces first and foremost.
Insólito UniVerso's La Candela del Río is out November 16 on Olindo Records. It's availble for pre-order now.
Colin Joyce is an editor at Noisey and is on Twitter.