There’s an ongoing theme with a lot of bands and artists originating from outside of Britain or the US that they’re far more open about connecting with and embracing the influence of their homeland. It happens quite often with a lot of Japanese acts who opt to sing in their native language, but the clear kinship that Puerto Rican duo Buscabulla have with origins extends deeper than that. Despite being based in New York, the duo returned to Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, where vocalist Raquel Berrios established the organisation PRIMA as a means to provide sustainable funding and support for local artists in the wake of the disaster. Even removed from that though, the duo have always had their roots on show within their creative output; their brand of indietronica is notably hybridised with touches Latin music and sung entirely in Spanish, all on an EP produced by Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes and assisted by Converse after winning a Guitar Center contest. The dichotomies between the two cultures Buscabulla have claimed as their own have always made them an fascinating proposition within indie music, something that looks to be taken even further when digging through Puerto Rico’s devastation on debut full-length Regresa.
What’s interesting though, is that the built-in sense of disconnect within Buscabulla’s music is what comes out of all that with the greatest rate of success. It’s without a shadow of a doubt something unique and unfamiliar, and that blanketed stimulus ultimately does a better job of representing Regresa’s best features than the music itself. That’s not saying that what Buscabulla are doing is bad, but it’s certainly an acquired taste that has a tendency to lose its way by the end. It’s a real shame that’s the case when the central thoughts and ideas remain so solid, but for an album where depth and ensuring every layer is honed to its greatest extent is so pivotal, Regresa’s approach to that can be a bit too hit-or-miss.
And it needs to be stressed that that’s not an issue of language barrier either. Even without explicitly translated lyrics, the central theme of the album lends a lot of weight to what’s being visualised. There’s a melancholy that Buscabulla feel at seeing the toils of Puerto Rico, whether that’s natural destruction, capitalistic exploitation or just a bleakly uncertain view of the future from its residents. That’s a very broad (and without the benefit of speaking Spanish, most likely reductive) encompassing of this album, but it does work for the more atmospheric side that Regresa is looking to cultivate. There’s an understated moodiness and discomfort to tracks like Manda Fuego that, along with Berrios’ gentle but faintly exasperated vocal delivery, sets a pretty stark tone. At the same time, Club Tú y Yo and Mío bring forward solidarity and togetherness with the duo’s homeland in a more percussive, winding style that wears its bachata influences prominently while melding them with glossier synths and an overall shimmering indie-pop finish. It’s a neat effect, injecting some more organic flow and groove into what’s typically a rather stiff and sterile sound, but doing so without sacrificing any modern polish. It’s fittingly cosmopolitan in execution; there’s definitely more of an onus placed on gleaming backdrops and a luscious alt-R&B production value, but it’s something that Buscabulla have that’s entirely their own and they’ve shaped it well overall.
But throughout Regresa, there’s also a distinct feeling that they could take something like this a lot further. As a baseline, there’s a lot to be encouraged about when it comes to genre fusion of what are two very disparate worlds, but the balance leaning in the favour of their contemporary indie-pop side ultimately feels like the less interesting result. Beyond the clearer grooves on Club Tú y Yo or the quicker, sharpened percussion on Vámano, Regresa itself isn’t as memorable as the overall idea it presents. That’s especially true when it drifts into sleepier dream-pop towards the end with a track like Nydia; the more textured and organic elements (which themselves haven’t been spared of at least being touched by the production, for the record) become diminished even further, and what’s left is an album that has tone but no way of making it distinct. Add to that some very one-paced moments that can make even a relatively short album like this drag, and it makes Buscabulla’s overall existence as its own entity feel realised but yet not solidified. The ideas are there and the attempts have been made to apply and engage with them, but it all feels very tentative and not as vibrant as it could well be.
And while that could well be the point for an album as clouded by melancholy as this is, there’s still a natural spark to the music that Buscabulla are drawing from that, even in such a context, can bring real character. Regresa certainly touches upon that and is largely likable in the process, but as an indie / Latin fusion in the vein of which this is so frequently marketed, it’s holding back when it doesn’t need to. There are grounds for something really creative and captivating here, as long as Buscabulla can find the right avenues in which to make that work. Despite some good moments, Regresa isn’t all the way there, though it’s not hard to see where the movements can be made to arrive there before long. There’s still a lot of life in Buscabulla yet, and that’ll undoubtedly make way for something unquestionably original within both the indie and pop scenes.
For fans of: Blood Orange, Toro y Moi, The Internet
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Regresa’ by Buscabulla is released on 8th May on Ribbon Music.