Grupo Salvaje – In Black We Trust

Grupo Salvaje
In Black We Trust

Acuarela (“watercolor” in Spanish) is one of my favorite record labels, indie or other. It’s a Madrid operation that consistently signs bands with a flair for interesting, usually quirky and warm, highly personal music in English and/or Spanish. Acuarela also seems to be more prolific in its release of indie-pop/rock records than its two fellow Spanish competitors: Siesta and Elefant. As with many indie labels, many of Acuarela’s artists work with each other and record collaborative releases, sometimes as one-off projects and occasionally as indie super-groups. Grupo Salvaje, among Acuarela’s newer recorders, is one such super-group. The band features the talents of members of Pribata Idaho, Migala, and Emak Bakia.

Grupo Salvaje took its name from the classic Sam Peckinpah film, The Wild Bunch, a logical decision given these Spaniards’ love for alt-country songs that slice and abandon traditional country-western lyrical topics. In Black We Trust, the band’s debut album, was also named as a play on words. These guys are big fans of Johnny Cash, so they decided to combine the “man in black” and the declaration on American currency. Alright, we know that Grupo Salvaje is witty and can name-check with the best in rock, but does its music match its verbal cleverness?

The only correct answers are “surely” or “seguramente.” In Black We Trust opens with “A Christian Family,” in which Grupo Salvaje mournfully declares its positions on religion, heaven, hell, communism, and Marxism. The three simultaneously played guitars, from the gently higher tones to the tired western chords, mix with Carlos Perino’s drumming to immediately build a hazy afternoon mood. Ernesto González sounds like a charismatic, wise, older Brit on “How to Make God Come,” and his harmonica is the highlight of this Spanish piece of Americana. “Watercolor Summer” has 12-string guitar and organ vibrations that are impossible to ignore or dislike, and the lyrics are equally striking. “You passed thru my life like cocaine lines / They run my veins and ruin my whole heart” is an entry for which Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples would kill.

The prettiest and most charming song on In Black We Trust is “Roses & Despair,” in which whistling and banjos dominate the affair. It’s a mellow love song written from the fly-on-the-wall perspective. “Desheredada” is Grupo Salvaje’s lone instrumental track on its debut album. Its high notes, with some spacey effects and windy backdrops, flow naturally into “Elvis, Love Us!” This spookily humorous piece begins with sharp social commentary: “Take a look outside your tomb / And you will see the face / Of millions of lost souls / Awaiting a blessed word / Almost human, almost God / But completely alone.” Equally satisfying is the final chorus: “Elvis! Love us! / Show us the way / When all of us are fucking insane.”

In Black We Trust ends with the more subdued “The Survivor,” in which the lyrics and music don’t match up to what could have been a more emphatic exit, especially given the provocative song title. Nonetheless, this first album by Grupo Salvaje is a consistently enjoyable work, filled with deliberately played and sung fables that occasionally possess philosophical nuclei. To their credit, the members of Grupo Salvaje have created an engaging album of alt-country originals that is never derivative and offers a refreshing take on the genre. What’s more, the artwork and mirrored lyrical prints are magnificent. In Grupo Salvaje we trust.