The Mosquitos seem like they are a world music act, because one of their two singers is from Brazil; JuJu Stalbach manages to remind everyone of Astrud Gilberto because she retains her beautiful Rio accent and sings in an open-hearted way. But they are a New York City group through and through, cannibalizing any and all musical cultures to try to create something new! and fresh! and cool! Which is awesome. Hybrid vigor, dappled glory, all that stuff.
They’ve been together for a while now, and the Mosquitos have their stuff together. The songs on this album float—think of an exact midpoint between indie-pop and bossa nova, and you’ve got an exact mental picture of “Love Like You” and “One” and any number of these tracks. It’s all light and smooth and fresh, like organic creamy peanut butter. (Some of you might prefer crunchy to creamy, but we’ll get to that later.)
Stalbach’s voice is a pretty thing—it doesn’t soar, but it flitters and flutters beautifully in and around their gorgeous settings. “Mama’s Belly” is a lovely surreal thing about being in love and/or gestation and/or breaking through to a new level of consciousness. It also starts to rock about halfway through, letting songwriter/co-singer Chris Root show off his jazz-rock guitar chops. If you wanted to sell this band, or romantic love, you’d lead with this song.
The best thing about the Mosquitos is the fact that they’re not afraid to get psychedelic. “UFO” starts off with “I know a girl who has her head up in the clouds / she’s always up, she doesn’t want to go down / but she knows that it’s almost over.” The song gets deeper and darker, as the girl ends up curled into a ball, “a million miles away, daydreaming”; the music just gets lusher and lusher, with new strings and sitar synths and all manner of echo, until…well, gosh, it’s over, and where did it go, and what happened, and I GOTTA HEAR THAT AGAIN.
But back to the peanut butter dilemma: there might be a little too much smoothness here, to be sure. Too many songs follow the same format, and not enough of them seem to mean a whole lot outside of their pretty plastic surfaces. A lot of people are emphasizing their all-Portuguese cover of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid”, but I don’t think it’s a brave move at all—it’s exactly what an indie band would do, and it’s about 17 steps removed from the weirdo-beardo orchestral intensity that the original had on Young’s Harvest album. Outside of “Mama’s Belly” and “UFO”, they’re content to coast on the pretty instead of digging for the truth.
...Which is okay for a while. But not every day is a pretty day, and when you need something a little grittier, a little more real, it’s nice to be able to have that arrow in the quiver.
// Notes from the Road
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