Bomba Estéreo: Elegancia Tropical

-- By Felix Contreras, NPR Music

Many musicians say that the second album is harder to write than the first, especially when a debut is successful: There's more pressure, higher stakes, fewer ways to surprise and less time to work. The Colombian band Bomba Estéreo faced down that imposing empty canvas when it entered the studio to record a followup to 2009's hit Blow Up.

Bomba Estéreo broke through on the strength of a dynamic mix: electronics, cumbia, soaring guitars and impassioned vocals, performed with raw intensity but also an eye toward maturity and growth. On Nov. 6, the band returns with Elegancia Tropical, a surprisingly nuanced and textured collection of songs written by vocalist Li Saumet and bassist Simon Mejía. Life is more than a party this time, as the band takes on thought-provoking themes and examines subtleties of pulse and tempo. Even a sweaty dance-floor cooker like "Rocas" conveys a deeply sensual sway.

For my money, the treasure amid the gems is "Al Respirar," which I had the pleasure of hearing in development during a video shoot in Bogota three years ago. The beat is driven by a simple pattern that was developed on an alegre, a djembe-like Afro-Colombian drum. Mejía and guitarist Julian Salazar create a sonic equivalent of that organic pulse using keyboards, guitars and samples, over which Saumet's vocals float like a tropical dream.

Of course, "Al Respirar" is but one highlight of Elegancia Tropical, which represents a major step forward for Bomba Estéreo, as it thoughtfully builds on its success and promise.