In the last couple years obscure psychedelia from Brazil has become a touchstone for a new breed of psych-folk here in the US. Everyone knows the more pop-inclined mayhem of Os Mutantes, but I’m talking about the spacier stuff produced in the northeastern state of Pernambuco in the early 70s. Artists like Alceu Valenca and Geraldo Azevedo made some trippy records back then, but the cognoscenti has embraced the primal purr of people like Lulu Cortes & Ze Ramalho and Marconi Notaro, some of which has been reissued by the fine Portland, Maine imprint Time-Lag Records. Yet, I hadn’t heard any contemporary takes on this stuff being made in Brazil itself—until now.
A Estetica do Rabisco (Dubas Musica), the debut album from MoMo (aka Marcelo Frota), taps into that loopy vibe in service of more conventional pop tunes, and the results are stunning. Along with Caetano Veloso’s Ce, it’s the best album I’ve heard from Brazil this year. Actually, it’s among the best records I’ve heard from anywhere this year. Frota has made clear his admiration for folks like Devendra Banhart and Antony & the Johnsons, but I find his stuff more subtle, focused, and restrained. He was born in the state of Minas Gerais—which also produced the great Milton Nascimento—but his family soon moved to Rio de Janeiro. They later moved to Angola for three years, only to return to Rio. It was during high school that Frota developed a strong taste for underground rock, particularly the stuff coming out of Seattle in its heyday.
These days Frota has a solo career and he’s also a member of a new pop band called Fino Coletivo with his pal Wado, former leader of the superb Wado E Realismo Fantástico; their debut drops later this month. MoMo sticks mostly to standard instrumentation—acoustic and electric guitars, kit drums, and keyboards, with only spare saxophone and flute lines offering a direct link to some flower-power past—but the arrangements incorporate plenty of space, so that each sound makes its mark. Frota’s got a limited range, but by dialing down the volume and drama he gets plenty out of it, conveying an warm intimacy without getting all whispery and sensitive. Buried in the gorgeous murk of feedback, gentle guitar arpeggios, organ swells, jagged beats, and lovely harmony vocals are pretty melodies that ought to make American psych-folk hacks hang it up. You don’t get any whiff of bossa nova, but there’s no doubt that Frota has also absorbed indigenous lessons of lyric beauty from 70s icons like Veloso, Nascimento, Buarque, and Borges. He’s currently seeking a U.S. label to license the record, but in the meantime copies of the import have turned up at Dusty Groove.