The Puerto Rican group Calle 13 are one of modern Latin music’s most-treasured institutions: Over the course of five scrappy, propulsive albums, they were aesthetically omnivorous, politically bracing and even commercially successful, earning a platinum plaque and a smattering of minor hits. Their peers adored them, and no group has won more awards from the Latin Recording Academy.
Calle 13 went on hiatus following the release of 2014’s Multi_Viral, and its members have gradually worked to establish solo identities. The singer iLe struck first, with a handsome, nostalgic full-length titled iLevitable. The rapper Residente followed with an eponymous album built around a jet-setting concept: collaborators and recording locations doubled as an exploration of his own heritage. And now comes Trending Tropics, a new release from Calle 13’s beats-whiz Visitante in collaboration with the Dominican singer Vicente Garcia.
This is a wonderfully madcap album with impeccable sequencing. It opens with a beautiful choral passage — the choir includes Nidia Góngora, who recorded an album with the producer Quantic last year that’s worth your streams — before giving way to electronic gurgles. Then comes one of the year’s great barn-burners, “El Futuro Ya Pasó,” which is helmed by iLe. This is all rambunctious, bounding energy, with jagged, clanging guitars lifted from African pop and a ferocious call-and-response hook. After that, the album slows to make room for cooled-out rapping from Ana Tijoux on “Silicone Love,” only to accelerate to reckless speed on “Elintelné.”
This kind of zig-zagging is the primary organizational principle — dis-organizational principle? — on Trending Tropics. Vocalists cycle in and out — Tijoux, rapping with flinty grace; Wiso G, exclaiming furiously; Garcia himself, selling “The Farm” with a heady hook. Visitante and Garcia are remarkably uninterested in repeating themselves, so the backdrops change as often as the singers: A snatch of salsa transforms into a half-time hip-hop beat; a club-ready thump joins racing surf-rock; a synth hints at electrocumbia while a guitar riffs on ska. To keep everything tight, Trending Tropics also work with an overarching concept: 21st century humans might be overly dependent on technology. You can read more about that in the news, but you won’t have half as much fun.