Smile Politely

Chillout Music from the Summer of Love

Some things are extremely probable. Like the chances of hearing “Don’t Stop Believing” twice in a frat party, or getting hit by a Jimmy John’s “freaky fast” delivery car. But even more probable are the odds that you’ll enjoy this week’s album. They’re from Brazil, 95 percent of the album is in Portuguese and most of the tracks are rearrangements of popular Brazilian songs.

At this point it doesn’t seem that appealing, does it? And with the war on terror raging, it may not be so patriotic to listen to a Brazilian band. In fact, there might be a law against bobbing your head to this. But before you start raising those mini flags and chanting, You-Es-Ey! You-Es-Ey!, imagine Brazil: the warm and gentle sunrays, laid back beaches, Mardi Gras. Yup, they sound exactly like that.

Well, maybe not exactly, probably Mardi Gras on drugs, that is. Which doesn’t mean you have to be on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, to enjoy this album. The album is the drug itself. In fact, Os Mutantes’ self-titled debut is so charming that your satisfaction is guaranteed. If you listen to it and are not satisfied, then, errmm, well, uhhh, yeah, you could spam the comment box with hate messages.

In fact, all your doubts melt away as a short military trumpet announces the arrival of the first track, “Panis Et Circenses”. It’s a snappy wake-up call, suddenly shifting into a sleepy melody before changing again into a bouncy rhythm with a wild organ, dull trombone and a very chatty and energetic trumpet. The best way to describe it is an elephant walking slowly but steady, proudly swinging his trunk, left and right, in a carnival.

Picture that, trust me, it sounds exactly like it. Midway the song literally dies down. Then the music ebbs in with a melody reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote running past a cliff, checking the air below, and waving goodbye. Then again, the song comes back, but this time like a street parade. And just when the song peaks, a glass breaks and Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltzes in. We hear people talking in the background as broken glass is being swept and with that the song ends.

That’s the first track, and it’s under 4 minutes.

Sounds overwhelming? You’ll be surprised how soothing it is on the ears. The whole album is dense, with fragments of sound layered here and there, yet in a very manageable way. It’s goofy, but not too goofy: just whimsical enough to be playful and not spill over to kitsch. An easy way to approach the album is dividing it into two: upbeat tracks and solemn tracks.

“A Minha Menina” falls under the party mood. It’s a silly forced laugh that starts it, along with a wavy tropical guitar. Then the fuzz guitar enters. God bless that fuzz guitar. By the end of the song, I’ll assure you that you’ll be singing the riff along with the band, as they break out on vocal tangents, with people singing, humming, shouting, chanting and making monkey sounds.

“O Relogio” is one of those solemn tracks. It has the whole dreamy atmosphere, with the sparse electric piano and lush vocals. Suddenly, it breaks out into a festive mood filled with guitars and drums. Then, just like that, it returns to the somber mood. “La Premier Bonheur du Jour” has that retro doo-wop feel. Perfect vocal harmonies, congos, a flute and descending bass notes set a very relaxing mood. Towards the end, it somehow gently develops into a haunting atmosphere. “Baby” is probably the most expressive yet ridiculous song. The organ sounds sincerely heartbreaking but there’s something strikingly funny about it. The guitar wails along with the chorus and after a while, you realize how delightfully silly the organ is.

“Adeus Maria Fulo” sounds like a trip deep inside a jungle. Its certainly a pleasant one indeed with two xylophones ecstatically going up and down to the sound of apes humming along. There’s so many goofy vocal snippets here and there that when the singer ends the song with his cartoon persona voice, you just can’t help but snort out a laugh. “Senhor F” could pass as a children’s song, only it’s layered with psychedelic influences. The song has a middle section spilling over with different sounds and even has a similar “Strawberry Fields Forever” fade-out-fade-back-in effect.

“Trem Fantasma” has that groovy feel with trumpets accompanying. In midsection, the singer sounds like he covered his nose and sang then the mood suddenly turns odd. When it gets too odd, it gently leads you back to a familiar melody. The party spirit of “Bat Macumba” will definitely get to you. It’s a bat screeching guitar, groovy bass and congo pounding away to the sing-able chorus, “Bat macumba, ey ey! Bat macumba, oba!”

“Tempo No Tempo”, the shortest track, is snappy with rapid-fire words flowing along with the horns. Then just like that, out it goes with church bells clanging. The last track, “Ave, Genghis Khan”, is probably the blandest song on the album. It’s got the psychedelic effects laced vocals, the guitar solo, and the “rock drums”. But once you’ve covered so much unique sounds, your ears start becoming dependent on it.

Considering that Os Mutantes was released in 1968, it’s amazing that it still sounds so relevant. Such playfulness is evident that after listening to it, you break into a smile every time you think back. It’s like a really good buffet, with several unique choices. But the great part is that you don’t have to stand up. You just sit back, kick your feet up and it’s served to you, little by little: a touch of this, a hint of that. It’s the album that makes you grin, gives off that warm fuzzy feeling and ultimately, satisfies. If you get musical munchies, take Os Mutantes.

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