The spreading tendrils of Brazil's underground | Bleader

The spreading tendrils of Brazil's underground

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In this week's paper Miles Raymer writes about Little Joy, a new band (playing at Subterranean tomorrow night) that features Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti and Los Hermanos singer and guitarist Rodrigo Amarante. I agree with his take on Little Joy's delightful self-titled debut, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it tops Los Hermanos--they're probably the best pop-rock band to emerge from Brazil in the past decade, though I doubt many Americans have heard them (none of their records has ever been released here).

Los Hermanos gracefully incorporate dashes of bossa nova, samba, and other Brazilian forms into their music, but they're a rock combo at heart, albeit one with a remarkably sophisticated melodic sensibility and an impressive gift for elaborate arrangements. The group hasn't released a new record since its fourth, the aptly titled 4 (Sony/BMG, Brazil), back in 2005, and in April 2007 it went on hiatus. Thankfully some of its members have stayed busy in other projects since then.

Amarante met Moretti at a music festival in Lisbon a few years ago, and when Amarante traveled to LA, where Moretti lives, to work on the most recent Devendra Banhart record, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL, 2007), the two began hanging out. (Moretti is also working with Banhart now, as a supporting member of Megapuss.) Eventually a mutual friend and musician named Binki Shapiro encouraged them to write songs together, and after some low-key woodshedding and songwriting sessions, Little Joy was born. Before Los Hermanos took their break, Amarante was already doing side work as a member of the Rio de Janeiro samba group Orquestra Imperial, which played in Millennium Park as part of World Music Festival Chicago back in 2006--his star power helped the group develop its following in Brazil.

While Amarante has been spending much of his time in the U.S., Los Hermanos coleader Marcelo Camelo (pictured) has been cooking up his own project--he recently issued his solo debut, Sou (Sony/BMG, Brazil). For much of the record he's back by Hurtmold , an instrumental group from São Paulo that's taken inspiration from Tortoise but treads weirder, more experimental turf. The combo's recent fifth record, Hurtmold (Submarine), fuses melancholy melodies to clattery percussion, expansive grooves, thick waves of ambient noise, and detailed contrapuntal riffs. Two members of the band, Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado, have also been working with Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek in São Paulo Underground, which recently released its second album, The Principle of Intrusive Relationships (Aesthetics).

Hurtmold plays it relatively straight on Sou, but there's no missing the group's exquisite sense of space--it's part of what makes Camelo's record one of my favorites this year. The performances are dominated by clean-toned electric guitars, vibes, and tremendously loose-limbed grooves--as much Afro-Cuban as Brazilian--all recorded with a warm, gorgeous room sound. Camelo has a wonderfully intimate vocal style that often reminds me of Caetano Veloso--they have different voices, but Camelo has clearly learned from the master's way of switching between conversational speak-singing and beautiful falsetto melodies. There's a wonderful retro-samba number as well as a few tunes featuring only Camelo's voice and a lone guitar. A handful of other musicians pitch in too, including drummer Domenico Lancellotti (of Domenico + 2 fame) and Mazurek. Camelo, Hurtmold, and Mazurek are currently touring all over Brazil, but without a U.S. release I don't expect them to get up this way any time soon--a real shame. Sou is going to be hard to find here, but at the moment Dusty Groove does appear to have the CD in stock.

No playlist today; I'll be back on track next week.

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