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Cuco - Chiquito EP Music Album Reviews

Cuco - Chiquito EP Music Album Reviews
The short EP from the California singer showcases his ear for cool sounds, and every track puts his dynamic personality and oddly calibrated synths front and center.

No teenager dreams of driving an SUV, but Omar Banos isn’t the type to take a functioning car for granted. On his debut EP as Cuco, the 19-year-old bedroom pop singer and sometimes kinda-sorta rapper pays tribute to his Honda CR-V, a compact utility vehicle mostly notable for its safety features. “Riding down the street in my Honda SUV,” he sings, “Picking up my homies in my CR-V.” There’s a long, inglorious tradition of outsiders rapping about mundanities that more traditional rappers would never touch, and usually the joke isn’t remotely funny (we see you, Lil Dicky). But Banos sells it, in part because he isn’t entirely joking. When you’re a teenager, cars are freedom, and Banos sings with a genuine affection for his that’s all too relatable.

Maybe that’s why he doesn’t rap more, even though he’s passable enough at it that he could consider going that route: Rap is about fantasy, or at least striving for more, but Banos is fundamentally happy with what he already has. He spends his self-recorded Chiquito EP in a content daze, smoking the hours away, daydreaming about crushes, and enjoying the sun (he’s from Hawthorne, California, home of the Beach Boys). The idea of upgrading to a more glamorous ride never even crosses his mind.

Lots of Banos’ early press has kicked around the term “heartthrob,” and you can lose some real time parsing how much irony, if any, is in that word. Though nobody’s going to mistake him for one of the One Direction guys, he does have a sort of non-threatening, ’80s John Cusack thing going for him, and many of these songs cast him in the Lloyd Dobler role. A go-getter? Hardly. But boyfriend material? Definitely. He’s the classic “in loving with being in love” type.

Banos has an ear for cool sounds, and every track on Chiquito puts his oddly calibrated synths front and center. Mostly they’re just window dressing, though, a showy new way of packaging some time-tested bubblegum hooks. The trap drums and chopped-and-screwed effects that open “Sunnyside” are a fake out; the song itself is so faithful to the spirit of 1950s pop that it could be a cover of a forgotten Platters number, at least until it drifts off into flighty scribbles of smoked-out electric guitar at the end. The goopy, modernist synthesizers of “Summertime Hightime” make a statement, but they’re not nearly as memorable as Banos’ woozy delivery: “Summertime is the time I like to get high wit’ chew, it’s true,” he sings with a blissful drowsiness, sounding as if he’s pouring himself a bowl of cereal after a very satisfying nap.

Even his lyrics that aren’t overtly romantic sound like pickup lines. On the sticky-sweet “dontmakemefallinlove” he plays the lovable fuck up with clear glee, cheerfully singing “I don’t think I’m right for you, I’m just disappointing you.” It’s reverse psychology; the lyrics say “don’t date me,” but his puppy-dog delivery says “you should totally date me.” He delivers the EP’s most earnest serenades in Spanish on “Mi Infinita.” The translation may or may not do the line justice, but “When there’s a new romantic movie, I want to reenact those scenes with you” is a mighty endearing sentiment.

Banos makes nearly everything sound effortless. There’s only one track that feels forced, and curiously it’s the first one. The EP’s most conventional rap song, “Lucy” is fine for what it is, and if nothing else its production shows that Banos can do a decent Clams Casino impression. But compared to the spirited pop that follows, it sounds out of place and secondhand—its boast about feeling like John Lennon could’ve been ripped from the Soundcloud page of literally hundreds of struggle rappers. It’s the one moment on Chiquito where Banos sounds like he’s playing on somebody else’s terrain, and there’s no reason for it. An artist with this much personality doesn’t need to adopt somebody else’s.

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