Buscabulla’s tropical soul vignettes distill the mixed blessings of returning homeCatalina Maria Johnsonon May 15, 2020 at 4:00 pm

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, at least 130,000 people left Puerto Rico to live elsewhere. Yet in February 2018, Puerto Rican musicians Raquel Berrios and Luis Alfredo del Valle, aka experimental dream-pop duo Buscabulla (“Troublemaker” in English), returned to the island after nearly a decade in New York City. During those years, they’d become known for their music, which layers minimalist, electro-tropical grooves with high-pitched, ethereal vocals, but despite this success Berrios felt “incomplete” in New York. “Puerto Rico has something–and you probably know it if you know a Puerto Rican–there’s something about this island that really calls you,” she told NPR earlier this month. After two acclaimed EPs, this month Buscabulla released their debut full-length album, Regresa (Ribbon), whose bold sonic palette feels like it developed its fullness while ripening in the sun. Berrios’s vocals remain front and center, but the music is less dreamy and more vivid–it blends strange, abstract fragments of Puerto Rican rhythms into a mix of tropical-tinged retro R&B and soul. The drums on “Vamono” take cues from Puerto Rican marching bands and various colorful festival sounds, while the romantic, plaintive bolero “Club Tu y Yo” features orchestral arrangements (courtesy of Helado Negro) that enhance a sense of isolation. Buscabulla’s island perspective also adds political double entendres to their lyrics: “Mio,” which lays Berrios’s croon against slinky smooth bass, seems at first to be about possessing a lover, but on closer listen it’s a critique of wealthy tourists who lay claim to what isn’t theirs to have. “Manda Fuego” comments on the rise of religious fanaticism on the island with a brief recording of a preacher warning of impending suffering, but with its soulful grooves and ambiguous lyrics, it could also foretell a night of fiery passion. By juxtaposing such disparate emotions, Regresa offers sophisticated reflections on anxiety, estrangement, and returning home–in this case, a home that differs greatly from the idealized vision that del Valle and Berrios imagined while they were in the diaspora. But the promise of better times shines on “Nydia,” a tribute to New York-born Puerto Rican actress and singer Nydia Caro, who moved to Puerto Rico at 19. Caro makes a guest appearance on the gently funky tune, and as it turns increasingly upbeat, she prophesies that light will appear in the greatest darkness: “Tu no puedes ver las estrellas,” she sings, “Si tu no tienes una noche oscura” (“There is no way you can see the stars / If you don’t have a dark night”). v

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