[22 July 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Even with the trend of vinyl sales increasing, the mystique of records is in danger of being lost. It’s a potential casualty of our information age. Stumbling across a record you don’t know anything about, and can’t find any information at all about, is less and less unlikely, ever closer to impossible. These days, my friends that claim to ‘dig’ for records are carrying price guides with them. Christopher Weingarten’s recent 33 1/3 series book on Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back describes how furious early DJs were when others would reveal where samples came from. That seems a quaint notion today, when all is known. The level of information out there is bound to only escalate, and to affect hip-hop, or really music in general, on the way.
Without the unknown side of record-collecting, you wouldn’t have had hip-hop, and you wouldn’t have music collections like Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas. The CD collects 16 songs from Brazil, found 45s gathered by Joel Stones in his record-searching. The music, from the 1960s and ‘70s, is rarer than rare, so much so that the liner notes include a notation that basically says: we don’t know who owns the rights to these recordings, so we’re putting money in an escrow account in case the owners come forward and make a legitimate claim.
The liner notes, as detailed as today’s music consumers would want them to be, include an image of each record along with whatever information is known about the song and artist. Sometimes that’s the whole story, with musicians who are well-known in Brazil. With others, much less is known. The notes on 14 Bis’s “God Save the Queen” (not the Sex Pistols song) has some guesses about the band, but no definite answers.
The music itself contains mystique. There is mystery in guitar fuzz, in murkiness, like when vocals fall beneath a stoned guitar groove in the mix, and in the co-opting of music from other countries. This is, generally speaking, fuzzed-up rock ‘n’ roll. Sometimes it’s psychedelic/blues jams that end in feedback or screams; sometimes it’s covers of popular songs that you’ll know. Some are relatively straightforward, within this context. Others are pretty crazy, perhaps meriting the ‘bananas’ reference in the title.
The most bananas might be the first track, Celio Balona’s “Tema de Batman”. In other words, it’s the famous theme from the TV show Batman. Yet you don’t realize it for a while. It starts with a man talking and an announcer speaking through a megaphone, all over some funky drums, which then leads to a rocket taking off. It continues like this, with a flurry of sound effects and drums, for a couple minutes. It’s all build-up to the payoff: the last 55 seconds are that hooky Batman theme, all the more gratifying for the strange, meandering lead-in.
There are lots of small strange moments here, like the funky vocalizations at the start of Fabio’s “Lindo Sonho Delirante”, or the stumbling-through-a-cloud feeling of Loyce E Os Gnomes’s “Que E Isso?” All of these obscure songs made by obscure people also remind us how many people are involved in music history, how many stories of people are out there. Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas contains stories of people known and unknown. Some of these stories have been lost to time, and there’s an appeal in that too, especially in these times when everyone has a social-media presence revealing all.