Hidden Waters: Strange And Sublime Sounds Of Rio de Janeiro

Hidden Waters, the recent vinyl compilation of new Brazilian music by Sounds & Colours, offers a dreamscape view of the alternative music scene that has recently bloomed around the Audio Rebel studio in Rio de Janeiro. From established icons of ‘nova MPB’ like Kassin and Letrux to up-and-coming artists like Raquel Dimantas and Os Ritmistas, and from the serene soul pop of Jonas Sá and Marcello Callado to the abrasive noise experimentalism of Cadu Tenório & Juçara Marçal and Ava Rocha. Apart from twisting Tropicalia in unusual ways and fusing it to contemporary global sounds, there is not much in common between these projects. Yet there is some coherence still; they somehow feel linked. Perhaps because they know each other, talk to each other, live through and within each other, in the streets of Rio. Or perhaps because the compilation canonizes a moment, a slab of history as it is unfolding in Rio right now, something of the Rio of today will inevitably be congealed there.

Arthur Bittencourt, frontman of Ovo ou Bicho, has one of the most precise sensibilities in that scene, but most of his work is still to be unearthed. With “Moços”, we get a glimpse of his multifarious but conscientious craft. The track starts on a mellow, bucolic tone, but develops well into a full-on post-hardcore freak-out. The shimmering vocal timbres, like the duet of a broken music box, keep going interminably, just like the stoical strumming of the nylon guitar. But if the first half of the song is peaceful and eccentric, like a Mutantes or early Caetano Veloso verse, with composites of Moog loops played in reverse, the second half sounds like barefaced hard rock, metabolizing the psychedelic production of Grateful Dead and Can over an upbeat and unpredictable drum, that wears its no wave influences on its sleeve.

Other highlights from the compilation are the opener by Ana Frango Elétrico, “Saudade”, and the track by Negro Leo, who may be the most promising name between them all. Ana Frango Elétrico’s track is from her celebrated 2019 album Little Electric Chicken Heart. A lo-fi chamber pop tune with early jazz and 1960s chanson française flavors, the song is marked by Ana’s awkward-to-ironic lyrics and inimitable razor-sharp high vocals, which add a layer of cacophony to her Rita Lee mannerisms. Negro Leo’s “Mulato”, on the other hand, is a jazz punk anthem of winding melodic lines and punchy lyrics on Brazilian race relations. Using dissonances in its favor — interferences, atonalities, whistles, screams –, it packs radical politics and a complex concrete-poetry-meets-flow-of-consciousness form into just 3 short minutes of a sort of propulsive, danceable yet ultra-mystical fervor. I’d argue the closest figure to Negro Leo in recent Brazilian culture would be not a musician, but an outsider artist like Bispo do Rosário: unconventional, uncompromising, uncategorized. And I guess that is the logic behind Hidden Waters, after all: it would be really difficult to put someone like Negro Leo in a compilation that was thematical instead of temporal, but if Negro Leo wasn’t there, how good would a compilation of new Brazilian music really be? | r moraes

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