Puerto Rican musician Rauw Alejandro has always had his eye on the future — taking familiar genres and contorting them into something novel.
At the beginning of his career, that meant R&B-informed reggaeton when the rest of the industry leaned into “popetón,” a tried-and-true pop formula. Alejandro takes dem bow, the four-on-the-floor, three-beat percussive pattern that lays the foundation for many Urbano Latino genres (that’s the “boom-chk-boom-chk” to the untrained ear), and manages to stretch the sound into new, experimental heights. And maybe to the furthest corners of the galaxy, as his extraterrestrial concept album suggests.
Released as a surprise spinoff to his 2022 album “Saturno”, Alejandro’s fourth full-length, “Playa Saturno,” is an idyllic soundtrack for a beach party in outer space, a collection of songs that demonstrate Alejandro’s keen ear and respect for those performers who laid the path for his success.
The Queen of Reggaeton, Ivy Queen, appears on “Celebrando”; the pair harmonize on the song’s ascendant bridge. Spanish popstar Miguel Bosé appears on the retro-reggaeton “Si Te Pegas”; Mexican singer Junior H brings his corridos tumbados to “Picardía.” Puerto Rican duos Jowell y Randy and Ñego y Dálmata also make an appearance, on “Ponte Nasty” and “No Me La Moleste” respectively, bringing classic Boricua reggaeton to Alejandro’s modern audience.
In fact, much of “Playa Saturno” hits like a musical history lesson across the Caribbean: It’s heard in the steel drums of “No Me Sorprende” and the vocal melodies in “Hoy Aquí,” made contemporary by a retro-futuristic, synth-heavy production style.
A spinoff album is a tricky thing. There’s an expectation that these songs could be a collection of sub-tier tracks that didn’t make the original release, but that is not the case here. “Playa Saturno” is an alternative storyline in a larger musical universe. If there is a misstep, it’s in the similarity between “Hoy Aquí” and “Lejos Del Cielo” from “Saturno,” but coincidences can be expected when working in the same sonic template.
The successes of “Playa Saturno” far outweigh those moments: Particularly “Baby Hello,” the electro-pop lead single in collaboration with Argentine producer Bizarrap, known for his viral BZRP Music Sessions on YouTube. It’s innovative pop music, a late song of the summer contender for those looking to party among the stars. If space is the final frontier, Alejandro’s album serves as a reminder that there’s a lot more to discover — and the boundlessness of his music is a reflection of that fact. MARIA SHERMAN, MDT/AP