Thursday, February 5, 2009

Brazilian Girls Review

Originally published on Fábrika, 02/03/09.

Pop music has always been an international creature. Easy as it is for America to lionize its role in what has become a global phenomenon, every corner of the world has added something unique to popular music as it’s gone through its violent evolution. Pop the world over owes (African-)American music a huge debt of gratitude. But pop builds on itself; it adapts to new climates and cultures. Led Zeppelin in England wouldn’t have been who they were without Robert Johnson’s wailing conversations with the Devil in the American South; the Germans and the Japanese made an enormous contribution to today’s electronic pop world, although at the time Kraftwerk and Yellow Magic Orchestra were perceived by many to be bizarre novelty acts from brainy countries. In other words, the roots of global pop are American, but pop music has a well-stamped passport—it has been to many places.

The same can be said of NY-based Brazilian Girls’ third record, the appropriately titled “New York City.” In many ways, this collection - like the band (who for the record doesn’t have any Brazilians and only one girl) - is simply a musical travelogue. It is self-consciously obsessed with place, and indeed this is the Brazilian Girls’ greatest charm. In their hands, languages and styles commingle in a brilliantly colored kaleidoscope of international locations. Vocalist Sabina Sciubba regularly sings in six different languages. The band itself seems a tribute to the concept of the “genius loci,” what ancient Romans called the spirit of a place.

Take the opening cut, “St. Petersburg.” In this groovy, bossa nova-infused, dreamy tune, Sciubba narrates a trip though the Baltic metropolis. On an album called “New York City,” by a band called the “Brazilian Girls,” we enter into a musical vignette on a Russian city. On the darkly plodding dance track “Internacional” later in the album, the theme of place takes its most fevered and obsessive form: the lyrics to this one are simply a list of international cities spoken in a seductive, smoky, and foreign-accented tongue. The sexiness of this cut carries a potent message: “Internacional” is a celebratory fetishization of cosmopolitanism.

The record is a wooly tangle of different sounds and approaches. Highlights include “Good Time,” a hummable, instantly loveable dance tune with surreal lyrics (“Some people want to do crazy things in green amphibians…”); “Berlin,” a brass filled, schmaltzy waltz that would be at home in Kurt Weill’s Weimar Germany; and “L’Interprete,” a surprisingly intimate, vulnerable, and stunningly beautiful French ballad.

All this veering between different languages and countries can leave one feeling jet-lagged and dislocated. A critic of the band might argue that all this travel negates itself: in the end, you’re nowhere. But there’s a playful lightness to the record that buoys the spirit despite their occasional forays into hipster cosmopolitan chic. After all, you can always take a Red Bull in the airport en route to another adventure.

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