On Buscabulla’s Second EP, Puerto Rican Enchantment Meets New York Hustle

Buscabulla‘s Raquel Berríos will tell you that, one way or another, all of the inspiration for the electronic pop duo’s music comes from Puerto Rico, where both members were born. Their second EP, out today, is no different. But in this case, the inspiration is more Puerto Rico as it is viewed, or perhaps imagined, from New York. “The way Nuyoricans view Puerto Rico, it’s sort of this fantastical, imaginary place,” the singer, songwriter, and synth player tells Remezcla over the phone while Ubering to meet multi-instrumentalist Luis Alfredo Del Valle, the other half of her band, at the couple’s Bushwick practice space.

Time and distance have a way of playing tricks on the mind. Having lived in New York City for many years now, Berríos is not immune to their effects. Though she grew up in Trujillo Alto, outside San Juan, and visits once or twice a year, the island of her birth can still seem to her like a true Isla de Encanto. It’s not that Puerto Rico seems better than her adopted home, but as with any sort of memory, especially memories of home, distortions creep in. In her imagination, Puerto Rico becomes more magical, and “definitely enhanced in its quirkiness,” as she puts it.

Photo by Antonio Santini
Read more

“I love going back and forth because I’m reminded of these things that I grew up in and it’s so crazy, from the aesthetics, to the streets and the characters, and just all the things that happen on that island,” Berríos reflects. She’s thinking of people like Jaime Barlucea, mayor of the small mountain town of Adjuntas since 2005 and subject of the documentary El Boss. “This year, when he won the election, he was hung from this harness in the town plaza while he had a band play Metallica. This guy is a political figure,” she says.

The vividness of the self-produced EP reflects her colorful, homesick vision. On each of the four songs, live drums, well-placed percussion samples, and retro futurist synths gel into a fresh take on the notion of Latin American pop. She says she and Del Valle trusted their own instincts better on this outing, allowing them to refine Buscabulla’s cosmic, psychedelic sound. Their Borinquen inspirations are evident in the playfully provocative “Tártaro,” a tribute to the late Frankie Ruiz, Puerto Rican legend of 80s salsa erótica. The lyrics are almost entirely references to his (often explicit) songs, but in this new context they take flight into a trippy, sensual fantasia. Augmented by the video shot in a famed San Juan sex hotel, the song becomes larger than life, a nostalgic illusion of Ruiz and of an era, unstuck from time.

“The way Nuyoricans view Puerto Rico, it’s sort of this fantastical, imaginary place.”

On “Frío,” New York grit collides with longing for sun and sand. The lyrics, a vulnerable reflection on the harshness of New York City in the colder months, are quite real, and yet the song itself still seems suspended in a daydreamy place somewhere between New York and Puerto Rico. Featuring vocals from Helado Negro‘s Roberto Carlos Lange, Berríos calls it their version of a lamento. The question-and-answer style of her duet with Lange invokes the heartbroken boleros of the 80s, while the snippet of bachata dropped into the outro references to the New York of today, where the Dominican genre is ubiquitous. It’s both a shoutout to the rhythm and to their Caribbean family. “We wanted to reference that, because we’re Puerto Ricans in New York City and we share that with Dominicans who have also left their island because of economic issues,” Berríos explains.

“Frío” is a genuinely personal song for the transplanted musician. “Winter can be very isolating. It gets to me on a lot of levels. It’s always the hardest time, when I really think about why I’m still here,” admits Berríos. Of course, the reason she and Del Valle are still here is that their creative lives are flourishing in New York. The band’s self-titled first EP came out in 2014 on Kitsuné after they won a contest to have Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes produce it. At the time of our interview, Buscabulla is preparing to play a sold-out EP release show at Trans-Pecos, with a slew of dates in the U.S. and Latin America lined up. After that, the plan is to go to Puerto Rico (where else?) to record their first full album.

Related: Watch Buscabulla Roam the Streets of NYC & Explore Their Boricua Roots

Recording this EP was more challenging than making their first one, not only because they were flying solo, without the benefit Hynes’ sage guidance, but also because they were balancing writing songs with their day jobs while touring regularly and raising their now two year-old daughter. It’s tough, but there may be an upside to making music under such challenging circumstances. According to Berríos, EP II “captures the spirit of the hustle more than the first one. Our first EP was a lot dreamier; maybe our heads were more in Puerto Rico. I think with this one we wanted to capture what it’s like to be Puerto Ricans living in New York, working really hard. I think you feel the intensity in it.” The intensity is there, but it’s balanced by more than enough dreaminess, which is just as it should be. As any New Yorker will tell you, you need the dream to fuel the hustle.

Stream Buscabulla’s EP II below:

Buscabulla plays a record release show with opener NOIA at Queens’ Trans-Pecos tonight, January 20 at 9 p.m. For more info, click here.