the pataphysical study of randomized sound
Songs of my Life, pt 2: Os Brazões "Pega a Voga Cabeludo"
Of all the music I've discovered while working at the Dusty Groove, Os Brazões are possibly my favorite. Essentially, they were for Gal Costa what Os Mutantes were for Gilberto Gil, a psychedelic backing band that went on to do their own thing. However, unlike their genre-bending older brothers, Os Brazões never really got any recognition anywhere. I'd never heard of them until a Brazilian reissue of their one and only album randomly appeared in store and even more randomly appeared as a play copy. I was sold on it immediately, a slightly less ambitious version of Os Mutantes that's plenty psychedelic, with requisite references to everyone from Hendrix (in "Canastra Real") to Sergio Mendes ("Caroline, Carol Bela") and everything in between.
It is the album's opener, though, that really hits me. It begins with a slow build of congas then flutes (two of them, in gloriously paired harmony) then a closed high hat then some groovy acoustic guitar strumming that takes about 30 seconds to fully gestate and (to paraphrase a friend) more or less begs, pleads, demands some kind of crazy acid/fuzz guitar lick. Os Brazões leave you in suspense for a few more seconds, letting the anticipation build before unleashing a monster of riff that runs almost continuously for the song's duration. Then, they start singing in occasionally broken harmonies but with a fantastic staccato delivery that is quintessentially Brazilian. I wish I knew what they were saying, but that's probably for the best since I can't really imagine that their lyrics are really that interesting. The song follows a pretty normal arc, ending with a fun little wink of a guitar chord. I can't quite figure out why these guys didn't somehow get revived in the David Byrne inspired resurgence of all things Brazillian in the mid 90s. Maybe it's because in the end they aren't as exceptionally different as the Tom Zes, Caetano Velosos, and Gilberto Gils of the world. Their lack of inclusion on the first Tropecalia
compilation probably sealed their fate as an also-ran. But all this is just speculation. Their biography is totally spotty for those of us who can't read Portuguese. They are, however, a competent, occasionally brilliant, melange of all the styles in the air in Brazil in the late 1960s that are more than deserving of some recognition.
The Numero Group
My first real feature
for Dusted got published today, talking about the workings and ideas behind the fantastic Chicago reissue label The Numero Group
. Check it out.
Songs of my Life, pt. 1: Espers "Dead Queen"
This is the beginning of what I think will be a long term series of musing on the songs that dominate my conscience in day to day life.
"Dead Queen" is the first track from Espers' forthcoming album Espers II
coming out on Drag City
. My feelings on Espers are pretty well documented (see my Dusted
reviews of Espers
and The Weed Tree
), so I'll only mention that they're probably my favorite band out of Philadelphia right now. That said, I can think of no song to better summarize what they're about than this one. First of all, it's proof that the passacaglia is alive and well in the 21st century (or perhaps, that Espers never quite managed to escape the 15th), taking a fairly simple chord progression and repeating it for over 8 minutes without it ever getting old. I would go into why the chord progression works, but that would probably be a super-boring discussion for everyone except the uber-dorky music grad student geeks (like myself), so suffice it so say, the progression is tart without being effusive, despite its minor key. In fact, this song probably works because it is nearly emotionless: Meg Baird's multi-tracked voice shimmers but expresses a mood instead of a feeling; the interlocking cello lines have something to say but stand back and let you determine what exactly that something is; and the organs buzz neutrally, adding texture, not meaning. The only time this mask gets pulled back is for the fuzz and wah-wah drenched guitar solo in the middle. Amazingly, I get goose bumps at a different part of that solo every time I hear it. You might now ask, "how could a song be worthwhile if it has no feeling?" To which I reply that this has the same mystic allure as a masquerade ball, the sense that there could be anything behind the silent grin and the danger that comes with it. Or, alternately, it is like the flash of bare flesh in a veiled society; that little bit of skin means that much more when things remain hidden. And perhaps in a culture where everyone's screwed up emotions are on display all the time on reality tv, it is reserve that is the truly radical statement.