Like the work of Madlib and Jay Dee, Diego Bernal’s newest album Besides isn’t so much about the songs as it is about the parts of songs. The album’s opener “All You Can Do Parts 1 and 2” begins its second act just as the first seems like it’s going somewhere ominous and beautiful. Yet, the song’s twinkling second act is an instrumental hip-hop delight. It all happens in just over three minutes and is representative of Besides in its entirety: Bernal dangles concise hip-hop sketches in front of you only to take them right back again.
If this sounds like a complaint, it isn’t. Bernal has an ear for neck-snapping breaks and choice melodies, many of which incorporate ethnic roots music. The organs smack of Cuban jazz, and the guitars frequently sound lifted from the Spanish classical tradition. The percussion is hard to place, but it doesn’t sound like Los Estados Unidos.
Meanwhile, Bernal has the ambient, gritty fidelity of his aforementioned predecessors nailed, though it’s not clear whether the sound is birthed out of sheer skill, limited technology, or both. Highlights include the sweeping epic “A Long Second” and “El Corrido de Chico B,” walking music on par with Miles Davis’ On the Corner. And speaking of the late jazz trumpeter, Bernal revels in his love of wordplay on “Cumbiatches Brew,” a bouncy, sweet number that marries cumbia percussion with South American flute.
Altogether, Besides is a perfect hip-hop record for blunted after-parties, afternoons of thoughtful melancholy, and even the odd baby-making session. The fact that it came from a 30-something civil rights lawyer in San Antonio makes it all the more fun. Download for free at antipop.net/besides. — A. Coronado