Sunday, 7 April 2019

Brian Eno ‎– The Ship (2016)

Style: Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Warp Records

1.   The Ship
2.   Fickle Sun (I)
3.   Fickle Sun (II) The Hour Is Thin
4.   Fickle Sun (III) I'm Set Free
5. Away

Credits: Instruments – Brian Eno Mastered By – Matt Colton Producer – Brian Eno, Peter Chilvers Recorded By – Brian Eno, Peter Chilvers
There aren't many artists who, with 40-plus years of record-making under their belts, still see each record as a way to challenge their own paradigms with something new and different. For Brian Eno, however, this kind of challenge is core to his identity as a musician. The Ship, Eno’s newest release and his sixth on Warp, somehow manages to feel distinct from all the work he’s done. He describes this divergence as a desire “to make a record of songs that didn’t rely on the normal underpinnings of rhythmic structure and chord progressions but which allowed voices to exist in their own space and time, like events in a landscape.” The Ship is broken into four tracks that more or less flow into one fluid 48-minute suite of music. 
On his website Eno describes his inspiration for The Ship as coming from, among other things, a fascination with the sinking of the Titanic and humankind’s balance “between hubris and paranoia.” That Eno should go here now is an interesting way of coming around full circle, because four decades ago he kicked off his non-pop career by issuing The Sinking of the Titanic by his friend and peer Gavin Bryars. That release, which featured not only Bryars but also Michael Nyman and Derek Bailey, was the very first on Eno’s then-new Obscure label in 1975, and served as one more footnote in the annals of Eno’s history in serving as a nexus for the “scenius.” (a term he coined to describe his belief that “it’s not individuals who create things, it’s scenes.”) The Bryars opus is also a double-edged sword as reference points go, because it has claimed ownership on Titanic-related musical storytelling, and it’s also incredibly good. 
Thankfully, the comparisons end there. While Bryars’s piece, with its beautiful, looping melody and gentle, nagging insistence, conjures a feeling of an auspicious capital-M Moment whirlpooling slowly downward, Eno’s opening track “The Ship” tells a story not of submerging into sea but of floating listlessly across windless water and forever fog, waves nibbling at the bow and starboard. With a minimalist structure and languid pace, this is not music meant to be experienced or appreciated by those in a hurry, or to be played in the background; it demands your attention in a way that quiet music often doesn’t.

For those willing to stick it out for 21 minutes, “The Ship” unfolds with a kind of majesty that can make one feel like they’re getting their body re-calibrated. Slowly shifting synths establish both gait and mood, before eventually giving way to poem-like vocals by Eno, intoned in a sort of Gregorian chant that only serves to strengthen the feeling that you are being induced into a meditative state. They continue for several minutes before subsiding and the track’s gentle voyage continues, with pitch-shifted voice returning with the refrain “Wave, after wave, after wave.” While not ambient music, the sounds at times resemble moments from Eno’s past, including especially the burbling sounds around 5:50 that recall his work with Bowie on Heroes’ "Neuköln." 
From here, The Ship gives way to the album’s second longest composition, “Fickle Sun (i),” clocking in at 18 minutes. Though the pace is a similar speed to “The Ship,” the feel is quite different, with a bass somewhere between “bounce” and “plod” and trebly, rising synths that give the track a menacing oomph. A later section seems to call upon the ’00s work of Fennesz, David Sylvian, and Scott Walker, which are good reference points for this record in general. While “The Ship” is remarkable for sustaining a specific tone for 21 minutes, all the while telling a clear story, “Fickle Sun (i)” is just as impressive, going in more directions musically and challenging the listener’s sense of understanding. 
After these two behemoths conclude, the storm clears and we are left with two brief cuts that function more as appendices, both of which are technically parts of “(ii)” and “(iii)” of “Fickle Sun” and each of which present issues for different reasons. “(ii)”, subtitled “The Hour Is Thin,” carries the same emotional tone, but stripped down only to plaintively struck piano notes and with a spoken-word piece by Peter Serafinowicz. While the music itself fits very well here, it would have been preferable to hear Eno’s honeyed baritone instead of Serafinowicz's clinical recitation. And “Fickle Sun (iii)” is a luxurious, jaw-dropping cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free” emerging unexpectedly from the last twinkled notes of “The Hour is Thin.” It’s incongruous to the rest of the record, but is so painfully perfect it can make you nearly let go of everything you’ve just heard to imagine, for a second, that Eno hadn’t stopped making pop music all those years ago. 
The Ship is a great, unexpected record. The title track and “Fickle Sun (i)” on their own and as a connected piece of music are marvelous accomplishments, distinctive in Eno’s catalog. And “I’m Set Free” immediately ranks among the most perfect-sounding pop songs Eno has ever had a hand in making. It is a little tough to process the disparity between the minimalist front and the melodic hanging chad of “I’m Set Free” at the end—and the latter is just so damned good that Eno’s pop fans may weep over being denied a full record’s worth of it. But in the end it’s easy to feel grateful that it all exists, and enthusiastic that Eno is an artist who still sees new techniques to learn and new landscapes to paint. 
Benjamin Scheim / Pitchfork

Tom Zé ‎– Estudando O Pagode (2005)

Style: Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Luaka Bop, Trama

        Primeiro Ato
01.   Ave Dor Maria
02.   Estúpido Rapaz
03.   Proposta De Amor
04.   Quero Pensar (A Mulher De Bath)
05.   Mulher Navio Negreiro
06.   Pagode-Enredo Dos Tempos Do Medo
        Segundo Ato
07.   Canção De Nora (Casa De Bonecas)
08.   O Amor É Um Rock
09.   Duas Opiniões
10.   Elaeu
11.   Vibração Da Carne
12.   Para Lá Do Pará
13.   Prazer Carnal
        Terceiro Ato
14.   Teatro (Dom Quixote)
15.   A Volta Do Trem Das Onze (8,5 Milhões De Km2)
16.   Beatles A Granel

Arranged By – Jair Oliveira, Paulo Lepetit, Tom Zé
Engineer – Paulo Lepetit, Rodrigo Sanches
Mastered By – Marcos Eagle
Mixed By – Rodrigo Sanches
Producer – Jair Oliveira

Antônio José Santana Martins was born in Brazil's Bahia region in 1936. We know him as Tom Zé, and at age 70 he's still making resolutely avant-garde music, or "spoken and sung journalism," as he calls it. Zé has never had much use for artistic boundaries, and his history of creating challenging and sometimes outright weird records always kept him on the fringe of Brazilian music. It wasn't until David Byrne discovered his records in the late 1980s, ultimately making him the first signing to the Luaka Bop label, that he gained international fame as one of Brazil's most inspired sonic troublemakers. At the time, he had been making a living in his hometown at his nephew's gas station. 
Nearly 20 years later, Zé occupies a revered space in Brazilian culture and music well out of proportion to any sales or popular notoriety he managed to compile in his heyday. But Zé's latest opus, Estudando o Pagode, is worthy of acclaim purely on its own terms. It's an ambitious, flawed, and ultimately vital work of astounding creativity that's in some ways even more radical than the recordings he made in his thirties. 
Musically, the album is exactly what the title says it is: A study of pagode music. Pagode first developed as a sort of recreational, improvised music for samba musicians to play at gatherings and has evolved into a dance music of the street-- something of a rural analog to the baile funk that's become well-known in the last few years. Zé claims to have chosen this form largely because, like baile funk (and, for that matter, Tropicalia), it is widely reviled by the Brazilian middle classes. Of course, a guy like Zé was never going to play it totally straight, and the music is shot through with the influence of rock, funk, and hip-hop. The lyrics in pagode frequently objectify women and Zé explicitly confronts this aspect of the style and subverts the music's normal focus. 
Lyrically, Estudando o Pagode is a complex, layered operetta featuring a cast of characters ranging from supernatural beings to everyday people. The overriding theme is the oppression of women by men throughout history; much of Zé's drama centers around a male character who, when attempting to shed paternalistic ideas, can't help bringing his own traditional associations into play. So the use of pagode music as the basis for the album is both ironic and culturally astute: It keeps the album firmly rooted in popular Brazilian forms, while using a traditionally macho music to denounce the subjugation of women. 
Does this all sound complicated enough for you? Estudando o Pagode certainly sprawls, but it does so in the same way Rio, São Paulo, and Brasilia sprawl: Alternately in patterns and haphazardly, overflowing with humanity at all points, and messy at the edges. And unless you speak Brazilian Portuguese, all of the album's pretense-- it comes with a full libretto, and press copies also included mock Cliffs Notes-- will be confined to the accompanying booklet. That leaves you with the wild musical mélange cooked up by Zé and producer Jair Oliveira, and it never gets boring or too inaccessible. Male and female vocals, sung and spoken, alone and en masse, share space in the constantly shifting arrangements, where acoustic guitars, hand percussion, and jerry-built instruments like piles of metal and rolled ficus leaves mingle with programmed drums and mangled electronic tones. Vocals are pitch-shifted, donkeys and orgasms are imitated and simulated, respectively, while "Mulher Navio Negreiro" includes voices approximating the sound of wind. 
The record opens with "Ave Dor Maria", riding a hip-hop beat topped with heavy descending guitar riffs and all manner of whizzing, fractured electronics, and Zé doesn't betray his age at all with his aggressive vocal delivery. Elsewhere, his singing ability sounds barely the worse for wear, and though he's never been thought of as a "singer" so much as a maverick, he deserves credit for making his average pipes do some pretty extraordinary things. Zé received formal musical training in college, and here he seems to use every ounce of it to subvert normality, using unusual chromatic piano runs in "Quero Pensar", otherwise one of the catchiest, most harmonically traditional songs on the album. 
What really makes the album work is that the music transcends the underlying intellectual conceits. For instance, the scene that "Duas Opiniões" corresponds to, called "It's Ridiculous to Cry", includes a conversation in the Garden of Eden and a revelation of gossip in the court of angels, but on the level of pure listening, it sounds like a damn nice Brazilian ballad. Likewise, "Elaeu" couches its gay-rights message in an instantly memorable pop song, warped at the edges by swirling electronics. 
Bottom line, Estudando o Pagode is an impressive album, musically, conceptually, and lyrically, and the cast of musicians and singers Zé assembled delivers on his singular vision. Whether or not this appeals to you depends on a lot of things, from your appetite for foreign-language music to your appetite for music guided by a Dadaist sensibility. If you're a newcomer to Zé, you'd probably be better off listening to Luaka Bop's 1991 Brazil Classics, Vol. 4: The Best of Tom Zé compilation first (I recommend this mostly because of the difficulty of finding his 1970 self-titled album). But in spite of its imposing premise, this album is surprisingly approachable and undeniably unique.
Joe Tangari / Pitchfork

Montanhas Azuis ‎– Ilha De Plástico (2019)

Style: Experimental, Ambient
Format:CD, FLAC
Label: Revolve

1.   Ilha De Plástico
2.   Faz Faz
3.   Flor De Montanha
4.   Dezanove Acordes
5.   Nuvem De Porcelana
6.   Sururu
7.   Duas Ilhas
8.   Coral De Recife
9.   Marianas

Music By –Montanhas Azuis
Performer – Bruno Pernadas, Marco Franco, Norberto Lobo
Recorded By, Mixed By, Producer – Hugo Valverde

A Revolve, editora e promotora portuguesa, serviu de casa a algumas das colaborações mais interessantes dos últimos tempos da música portuguesa - é impossível esquecer projectos como Filho da Mãe & Ricardo Martins, PAPAYA (Bráulio Amado, Óscar Silva e Ricardo Martins) ou Chinaskee & Os Camponeses serão os nomes que mais rapidamente nos saltam à cabeça. No dia 15 de fevereiro, chegou um novo supergrupo à Revolve. Montanhas Azuis, a combinação hipnagónica de Norberto Lobo, Marco Franco e Bruno Pernadas, tem como primeira manifestação Ilha de Plástico, um álbum que existe entre o sonho, a pop experimental e o jazz. 
Há algo de perfeitamente natural no aparecimento de Montanhas Azuis: Norberto Lobo afirmou-se primeiro como um dos primeiros proponentes de uma nova vaga de primitivismo americano em Portugal e tornou-se mais tarde numa figura incontornável do jazz português, Bruno Pernadas sempre se caracterizou na interface da indie e de grandes produções de jazz, enquanto Marco Franco sempre habitou os campos do jazz, tendo trabalhado no passado com artistas como Rodrigo Amado e até mesmo com Norberto Lobo em Estrela, editado em 2018 pela editora suíça three:four records. O terreno que esta cordilheira encontra em comum, um pop-jazz sem semblante, é maioritariamente composto por Marco Franco, baterista do projecto, e dificilmente se aproxima de alguma coisa em concreto - talvez haja alguns elementos de pop espacial e electrónica progressiva à la Mort Garson, talvez um pouco de easy-listening interacalado com jazz modal, talvez guitarras reminescentes dos 70s ou de uma ilha tropical perdida no pacífico - o que importa verdadeiramente é que, por muito que se decomponha a Ilha de Plástico, ela continua a existir como um elemento único no arquipélago de edições de qualquer um dos artistas.

O tema que abre o disco, "Ilha de Plástico", é a entrada subtil que as Montanhas Azuis oferecem nesta meia hora de fantasia composta quase exclusivamente por Marco Franco - um improviso modal de uma guitarra distorcida, encharcada, irreconhecível, sobre uma sequência repetitiva de acordes cria a letargia que acompanha todo o álbum. Depois desta "A Lotus On Irish Streams" da idade espacial, "Faz Faz" abre uma nova fase do sonho e intromete-se com uma dream pop orelhuda que, de alguma maneira mágica, cria o prelúdio ideal para a profunda calma da guitarra e sintetizadores de "Flor de Montanha" existirem.  
"Dezanove Acordes" consegue mais uma vez mudar o panorama do álbum como um tema pop forasteiro e jingão, não impedindo que "Nuvem Porcelana", uma ode à música progressiva electrónica subitamente transite para um ímpeto em vocoders contagiante e arpejos hipnotizantes. "Sururu", a única faixa composta por Norberto Lobo, segue-se e pede emprestados os vocoders que se destacaram na música anterior, em mais uma demonstração de uma sensibilidade pop admirável.  
"Duas Ilhas" vê o piano a surgir como um elemento considerável, enquanto uma guitarra deslizante e um sintetizador ominoso contagiam os espaços vazios. "Coral de Recife" revela uma vez mais uma estrutura fortemente assentada em algo profundamente orelhudo e contagiante, deixando os improvisos de teclado criarem a agradável estranheza que acompanha todo o álbum. Em jeito de despedida, "Marianas", tema gravado no MagaFest de 2018, é o único que junta os três músicos na composição e na sua simplicidade deixa pena por simbolizar o fim daquele que é um disco tremendo. Montanhas Azuis fecham assim Ilhas de Plástico, numa sobreposição lenta entre erguer e adormecer, reforçando a hipnagogia que marca todo o álbum. 
É difícil tecer comentários gerais sobre o álbum que não sejam puramente qualitativos - Ilha de Plástico é um álbum tão hipnotizante como brilhante, tão inovador como estranhamente familiar. Num disco onde tudo parece ter razão para existir, só se torna difícil ouvir o silêncio que os poucos segundos finais protagonizam - esta viagem cujo destino não importava, este sono do qual não queríamos acordar, inevitavelmente acaba. E não há nada a fazer a não ser reouvir esta Ilha de Plástico e viajar pelos mares que a rodeiam.
Threshold Magazine