María y José‘s Boy de la Costa EP, Tony Gallardo’s first real message to the world since the release of 2013’s grim dance party Club Negro and relocation to Monterrey, is stacked with Caribbean rhythms, unexpectedly bright sounds, interesting ideas and haunting lyrics. Most of the songs find him messing with various tropical styles until they start to sound like Internet-borne electronic subgenres. Combining the regional with the underground is, of course, what Gallardo is known for, but here each track feels like a distinct experiment in that vein and each one is more fully fleshed out than the one before it. “Tormenta Tropical” makes champeta feel like chiptune, while “Calor,” produced by Dany F, gives the genre a ghettotech makeover and decorates it with vaporwave synths. It’s a direction that would be cool to see fully explored on a longer release.
In another shift, Gallardo’s vocals are more foregrounded and deliberate on this release, calling attention to the empty gulf that lies between the comparatively daylit music and his uneasy lyrics about tropical storms and emotional wreckage. At the heart of the EP sits “Boy de la Costa,” a glitchy sad-boy bachata about being saved from drowning whether you like it or not. Gallardo drawls noxiously through the verses before flipping into the borderline manic chorus. Somehow, it’s the poppiest and most hopeful song on the EP.
But waiting at the end – heavy yet polished enough to glow in the dark – “Plata o Plomo” is a Frankenstein’s monster come to life on the operating table, an experiment so successful it’s frightening. Sandwiched between almost inaudibly low trap beats and wobbly, phosphorescent synth lines, Gallardo’s depressive faux-mafioso rap becomes a total earworm. Chanting in an eerie singsong, he throws himself into rhymes about sharp teeth and big guns, bitterly relishing in his neatly rendered sketch of youthful nihilism, greed, and violence. It’s a terrific but jarring closer. The gothic gangster mode belongs more to the bassy underworld of Club Negro than it does to the rest of Boy de la Costa – but here’s hoping the sleek minimalism and compelling flow are a sign of things to come.