[15 September 2008]
If there’s one thing the Brazilian Girls have done over their three-album career, it’s been to make critics just as schizophrenic as their scatterbrain influences. New York City, the band’s latest outing, leaves less open for interpretation and presents a tighter, less sporadic sound. Although the varied elements are still in place, they provide less flare and anthem-worthy club stompers over the album’s 11 tracks. If anything, the album highlights the group taking a less complex approach and redefining its craft—not a bad thing as far as longevity is concerned with a group like this, but it can leave a somewhat stale taste in one’s mouth while the trio is trying to find its niche.
The album’s introduction is sort of a false advertisement. “St. Petersburg” and “Losing Myself” leave the listener with a normal dose of Brazilian Girls world-savvy, percussion-driven beats, and jazz undertones led by the group’s indie female vixen, Sabina Sciubba. All is fine and dandy until “Berlin” murders the airwaves. The carnivalesque horn overload reminds me exactly why I never went to the carnival as a kid—not only did the clowns frighten the hell out of me, but the music made it twice as eerie. They are obviously shooting for novelty here. Previously in their career, novelties have worked in their favor, but this effort falls quite short of achieving anything positive.
One may say I’m reading too far into a dance track, but in order to capture an audience, it has to have more substance than formula. “Internacional” is embarrassing, frankly. If Serge Gainsbourg heard this, I’m quite sure he’d go flaccid in his grave. Its use of fictitious-sounding drum tracks amongst the featured vocals of the extraordinary Senegalese singer Baaba Maal is a shame. Sciubba’s babbling of names of foreign countries is not only contrived, but it can be tough to make it through the entire track. However, I must give the band credit for featuring one of the world’s most underrated singers, Baaba Maal, and can only commend it for introducing this superhuman being to its audience—something the Brazilian Girls have always done exceptionally well. The trio has so much potential, it just seems misplaced at times… to our chagrin.
However, there are a few gems throughout New York City that feature the trio branching out into varied genres that seem to work for it—and surprisingly, they are rather mellow. “Strangeboy” contains minimalist beats awash Sciubba’s reverberated, monotone vocals (which her singing with no range is branching out in itself). This is where the making things less complex method works brilliantly for the Girls, and leaves a lot of room for them to grow together. When they don’t try so hard to shove themselves into a genre they don’t sound comfortable with, and instead sit down and work in a minimalist fashion, they sound like an imitable band, not an imitation. The album ends on a similar note with “Mano de Dios”, an ambient drone that never quite changes, but begins to swell as the drone gets louder and Sciubba’s chanting gains more reverb depth over the course of four minutes. The Brazilian Girls are obviously stepping into territory that can help create the mood for a consistent album, but the proper adjustments have yet to be made.
And this is the progression of New York City. Quite possibly a reflection of the varied tastes of New York City itself, some tracks satisfy immensely, others cause humdrum annoyance. The Brazilian Girls have constantly impressed folks because of their multiplicity, but the next step is finding a way to combining these elements in a subtle fashion to work as a complete album. New York City has taken many steps in that direction, but there is still work to be done for the band to carve its niche.