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Regular readers of this blog know I'm partial to the music of Brazil, but that doesn't mean I can't smell a turd if it's painted green, blue, and gold. Case in point: Last Time on Earth (Control Group), the debut album from Sao Paulo duo Telepathique (pictured), who perform Saturday night at the unfortunately named Uncle Fatty's--which seems to be a Cancun-styled pickup bar. (They played at Double Door earlier this month, so it's not like they can't do better.)
I had reason to be optimistic about Telepathique because in 2003 singer Mylene Pires made a pretty swell solo album, Mylene (Fast Horse), that tweaked MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) with well-deployed electronic flourishes courtesy of coproducer and percussionist Ramiro Musotto. Her slightly husky voice brought a sensual warmth to the melodies, and the tunes gently blended samba, reggae, and rock into an inviting whole.
But in Telepathique, where she's paired with producer and DJ Erico Theobaldo (aka DJ Periferico), the songs squander the enveloping lushness of her voice--she doesn't sing so much as deliver robotic electroclash-style recitations (that kitschy retro trend has been all but dead for five years, and didn't have much to offer when it was current). Flourishes of drum 'n' bass and techno liven things up a bit, but Pires and Theobaldo apparently couldn't be bothered to write actual melodies. And oddly there's no trace of favela funk, which has been ubiquitous in Brazilian electronic music lately.
I don't mean to say that electronic music from Brazil is somehow required to make use of favela funk, as much as I enjoy it when it's done right. One of my favorite albums of the year, also Brazilian, avoids it too. The self-titled debut by the trio Sonantes (Six Degrees) isn't purely electronic, but the group is helmed by a producer, Rica Amabis (of the fertile production crew Instituto), who's supported by percussionist Pupillo and bassist Dengue (both of the great manguebeat outfit Nação Zumbi). Earlier this year they released 3 Na Massa (Nublu), a concept album where they borrowed a gambit often used by the great Chico Buarque--writing tunes from a female perspective for 13 distinctive female singers (in this case they included Céu and Nina Becker and Thalma de Freitas of Orquestra Imperial).
Céu handles most of the singing on Sonantes (though Recife roots revisionist Siba and Sao Paulo MC Bnegão both turn in fine performances as well), and there's some killer instrumental work from other members of Nação Zumbi and brilliant guitarist Fernando Catatau of Cidadão Instigado. Ultimately, though, this music succeeds because the moody songs are so solid. Some of the tunes stick close to Brazilian traditions like samba and frevo, but many are hybrids so perfectly integrated and finely etched that they repel such analysis--they make use of whatever works. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Sonantes will hit these shores anytime soon, at Uncle Fatty's or elsewhere.
Baby Dee, Safe Inside the Day (Drag City)
Willie Colon, The Hustler (Fania)
Stanley Turrentine, Look Out! (Blue Note)
Snooks Eaglin, The Sonet Blues Story (Verve)
Paul Bley, 12 (+6) in a Row (Hatology)