Under Review

Under Review: Creepy Mambo, Empanadas Ilegales

Angus Nordlund

So often in media, the goal is “show don’t tell.” But how does one accomplish this in music? If you are Vancouver-based band Empanadas Ilegales, you simply send listeners on a musical journey that ranges from city nightlife to beach party to horror movie and even space all in one go. Their latest release, Creepy Mambo, takes their signature psychedelic cumbia and salsa and brews them in a witch’s cauldron with jazz and horror music. After one sip, you find yourself going for a ride like no other. The cover art, done by Mateo Gomez Pinto, shows you what you are in for by featuring a woman riding a rocket over hills of green and forests of scrap paper cut from magazines. Thought weed or shrooms were the way to go? Nope. This ten-track thriller gets the job done. 

Right off the bat, it becomes clear this ain’t your grandpa’s favourite classical record that he keeps in the basement. “El Creepy Mambo” initiates you with a cryptic message in Spanish while an assortment of synthesizer and percussion noises clutter your eardrums, making you wonder whether to keep listening. However, it soon becomes worth it. “Tobogán”— my personal favourite — sends listeners straight into a 60s spy movie with its onslaught of fast-paced saxophone, guitars, and drums. You cannot help but imagine yourself racing through the city streets in a dapper suit and old-fashioned sports car. To put the creepy in Creepy Mambo, “La Danza del Vampiro” truly feels like you are dancing with a vampire. The high-pitched guitar against the lower-pitched percussion and saxophone feels out of place and alarming, making you think something is wrong. While this vampire seems friendly this track intends to keep you on your toes. 

The album’s star is Brazilian saxophonist, Tobias Soley, who plays out of their mind throughout the album. Their performance puts a smooth and sweet flow over the cluttered percussion and synthesizer, like consistent icing on a crumbly cake. It all culminates in the final track of Creepy Mambo, “Sax Solo.” No percussion, no guitars, and no synthesizer. It is solely Soley. They begin with a series of loud, wailing honks that sound more like geese than a saxophone. Then, at 1:43, Soley jumps into a sombre rhythm that forces listeners to ponder life and all its joys and tragedies. 

If you are looking to take a vacation but cannot afford tickets to the Bahamas, New York, or Transylvania, buckle your seatbelt and hop on Creepy Mambo. There is an out-of-body experience for everyone. And who knows? You just might find one that fits your groove. Bottoms up!