Omar Banos, aka Cuco, is playing down the fact that he has crafted what may be the wildest and most colossal playlist we could ever imagine. There is no definite structure to said playlist, no one specific mood or vibe that he committed to when piecing it together. The songs simply run their course — and it’s all over the place. But it does offer a lot of insight into the color palette he pulls from as a singer and songwriter.
“It’s a pretty gnarly set of like… 15,000 songs saved on Spotify,” the 24-year-old tells Remezcla. He goes on to joke about shuffling through the playlist in front of his manager while out for a drive the other day and how it left him a bit stunned. “After [playing] ‘PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ’ by Future, I had this prog metal song that came on. He was like, ‘Do you really have that after Future?’ All of my songs are in a messed-up sequence, so I had a song by this metal band, and then after that, it was like, José José.”
Over the last years, Banos has frequently cited Lonerism by Tame Impala as one of his biggest influences, and by now, it’s also no secret that he’s a diehard fan of all things psychedelia. He mentions being hooked on old-school garage rockers The Electric Prunes and more niche outfits like The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, but also on newer acts like The Lazy Eyes. He gushes over the four songs that close Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon — remembering them all in exact sequential order — and how effortlessly they weave into one another, making you feel as though you’re in a trance-like state. Banos doesn’t talk about his music library with the arrogance of a Rob Gordon-esque music bro, though. It’s more like the quiet confidence of that one crate-digging primo that always comes through with solid recommendations.
“I love hearing new and old stuff and staying up to date with psych music. It’s kind of hard for me to be in touch with stuff that’s just coming out, but I’m always pretty in tune with what’s happening in the psych world… And Bad Bunny,” Cuco laughs. “I’m very aware of when Bad Bunny releases a project.”
While mixtapes like 2016’s wannabewithu and 2017’s Songs4u served as many fans’ introductory points to the then-teenage Chicano singer’s mashup of synthy-slow jams and lo-fi hip-hop, his connection to hazy psychedelic rock flourished on tracks like “Mindwinder” and “We Had to End It.” They quickly set him apart from other artists filed under the bedroom pop genre. On his full-length debut, Para Mi, Cuco partied alongside cholos, dabbled in mellowed bossa nova, and hashed out his feelings following a near-fatal car accident. On “Ego Death in Thailand,” he tapped into that kaleidoscopic, spacey sound of the ‘60s once more.
His latest album Fantasy Gateway is by no means a throwback record. Instead, it plays on maximizing a mashup of sounds, both traditional and new: sunny fuzz undertones, mariachi, and boleros that tug on your heartstrings, the silkiness of late-night quiet storm R&B, and psychedelic trap beats. “There are so many sounds here that I wanted to do when I was younger, and I was never able to get it then. I think with the new music, it’s just really about elevating it and being able to translate more thoroughly what I think in my head,” he shares. It’s the multi-dimensional world that he’s always dreamt of building, one where finding a sense of euphoria in nostalgia takes precedence over the softer balladeering of his early material.
Reverb-heavy vocals glisten on “Paraphonic” and “When the Day Comes to an End,” while “Sweet Dissociation” unfolds into peak 21st-century psychedelic pop. “Foolish” is steered by a tight, hypnotic house music-like bounce and nearly treads into dance-pop territory — a notable first for the artist — but there are slightly darker turns throughout the album as well. Channeling experiences with depression and anxiety into verses and liner notes is nothing new for Banos. But writing the album certainly led him to accept that he needed to make several changes in his life. The narrator in the trippy first single “Caution” (produced by Venezuelan songwriter and engineer Manuel Lara) details his internal struggles after “bottling it up [in order] to not bother anyone around you” over roaring 808s.
While the Hawthorne native has remained consistent with writing, recording, and producing his own material since the age of 16, Fantasy Gateway also marks a new period of fruitful collaborations all across the board. In addition to enlisting a circle of A-list producers (Andres Rebellón, Julian Bernal, Ian Fitchuk, and Lara), his latest release includes appearances from rising talent like Culiacán shoegaze meets surf rock wunderkind Bratty and sierreño star DannyLux.
Mariachi and cosmic country-pop coalesce on the stunner “Sitting In The Corner,” which features Grammy-winning artist Kacey Musgraves and corrido singer-songwriter Adriel Favela and is undoubtedly the most ambitious and dynamic moment throughout Fantasy Gateway. While it’s tricky to pinpoint the song’s exact lifeblood, Banos notes that its origins stem from his love for musica regional and wanting to stay close to its roots.
“I wanted to bring Adriel into something that made sense, just out of respect for culture,” he explains. “Bringing a guitarron, a vihuela, the requinto…and then getting Kacey Musgraves on here and putting in her essence and her voice, and have her sing the chorus with me — sing the Spanish parts with Adriel too — it was awesome. They’re great people.”
“The way that the music industry functions right now is very fast, but there’s the people that stick around and are like, ‘Cool, you need some time to make an album? I’ll be here.’ When I’m able to make music for someone that says, ‘Yo, this was worth the wait,’ it makes me feel fulfilled.”
Despite having come a long way from his “Lo Que Siento” days, Banos still operates under that same mindset of building a catalog of music that resonates with a wide and intergenerational fanbase. “The way that the music industry functions right now is very fast, but there’s the people that stick around and are like, ‘Cool, you need some time to make an album? I’ll be here.’ When I’m able to make music for someone that says, ‘Yo, this was worth the wait,’ it makes me feel fulfilled,” Cuco says.
“To make that kind of change for whoever needs that motivation or just needs something to accompany you when you’re sad, it’s great.”
Listen to Fantasy Gateway below.