AJ Dávila: El Futuro Review

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AJ Dávila: <i>El Futuro</i> Review

The language of garage punk is not well adapted to expressing optimism. It’s usually more about fighting bad vibes with worse ones and flipping the bird at ill fortune, even (especially) if you brought it on yourself. On El Futuro, the third solo album from AJ Dávila, however, the former guitarist for sadly defunct Puerto Rican garage punk band Dávila 666 expands the genre’s vocabulary with an updated sound that promises a way forward for his music and for fucks-free rock ‘n’ roll in general.

Dávila’s first post-666 album, Terror Amor, had the sound of a musician trying to break free of the confines of their former identity, but uncertain of what else they wanted to become. It was an interesting collection of garage rock tunes that sounded like it was recorded on a cheap boombox from the early ‘90s (a plus) and featured guest spots from the likes of The Black Lips’ Cole Alexander, but it was a little unfocused. Happily, from the first singles released in 2016 it was apparent that Dávila’s growing pains as a solo act were behind him. Every song on El Futuro is tight and aesthetically purposeful, but the main shift from anything he’s done before is a brighter sound and a slightly better attitude.

Don’t worry. It isn’t “beachy,” “surfy” or even particularly sunny. The mood comes from leaning into the kind of tuff hooks that made Dávila 666 great, and from the gleaming production of Sergio Acosta, guitarist of Latin GRAMMY-winning band Zoé. The fine production doesn’t hurt a thing; turns out, Dávila cleans up good. Most of the album sounds like a power pop record from the ‘80s, with all the ooh-ohh choruses and tambourine you could ask for, but spliced with dark, catchy post-punk. Every song jams and, down to the Spanglish lyrics, feels like a great answer to the question of what rock music should sound like in 2017 — not that anyone asked.

The lyrics are par for the garage-punk course, narrating bad relationships and bad scenes, but Dávila’s perspective is reflective and resolute. He tells false friends that they can’t get him down on “Hienas,” skewers the mindset that gives rise to fascism on “SS Youth,” and gazes with clear eyes into an uncertain future on the title track. So maybe it isn’t really that optimistic. If it isn’t, it might just be something better.