[11 October 2006]
When Brazilian Girls first arrived, they toed a very thin line between respectability and camp. The group (which is neither Brazilian, nor all girls) turned heads with its wordly, dancefloor ready, self-titled debut. The fact that the disc dropped on respected Verve Forecast (the label’s contemporary offshoot) further enhanced the band’s credibility. The music—a heady mixture of house, indie electronica and pop—was assured, all anchored by lead singer Sabina Sciubba’s breathy, effortlessly sexy voice. The blend of styles also brought the band an equally diverse audience, as it played everywhere, from clubs to jazz festivals, worldwide. The problem was, while good, the disc failed to solidify an identity for the band. In both press photos and live shows, Sciubba kept her face behind masks or blacked out eyes, a move both highly affected and not particularly compelling. Combined with lyrics to songs like “Pussy” (Chorus: “Pussy pussy pussy marijuana”) or “Don’t Stop” (Chorus: “Don’t stop don’t stop no /J ust keep on going / Until I come”) Brazilian Girls set themselves up as a somewhat frivolous—though highly danceable—act.
With Talk To La Bomb, Brazilian Girls don’t waste any time in upping the ante on their debut. Lead single “Jique” (a word made up by Sciubba herself) crackles with a mean, aggressive bass line and electronic blasts, before opening up into an almost Stereolab-like ray of sunshine for the chorus. It’s a definite, confident and fantastic musical step forward for the band. Certainly, the best songs on the disc either push the band’s own unique style to the edges of the envelope, or further refine its approach. “All About Us” pretty well perfects the group’s downtempo, chilled out vibe, while “Rules Of The Game” frames the familiar diva-as-clubgoer sound with swarthy electric beats. “Nicotine” plays a different hand entirely. Employing the help of Mauro Refosco, a skilled percussionist who has worked with the likes of Bebel Gilberto, John Lurie, Marc Ribot and David Byrne, the song is an exquisite, delicate and surprisingly successful blend of bossa nova and Indian sounds. It is also one of the band’s finest tracks to date.
Musical subtlety seems to be the key to the best tracks on the disc, and Sciubba for the most part, tones down the fratboy sex and drugs lyrics from the first album. To be sure, Sciubba’s voice still oozes sex—she could read a manual on drywall installation and still manage to turn up the heat—but thankfully doesn’t oversell it this time around. Alternating between direct and dreamlike, Sciubba’s voice is still best used as another instrument in the mix, rather than pushed forward. Sciubba can be seductive, chatty and ethereal, and the fact that she brings a polygot of languages to the table (Engish, French and German among others) only adds to the depths the band can plumb.
The crossroads that Brazilian Girls has arrived at reminds me of a similar position faced by Bjork after her two discs. Debut was, by Bjork standards, a pop album while Post threw a few more ingredients into the pot, and slowly began explore new areas. But did anyone think she would go on to record such astounding works as Homogenic, Vespertine or the highly experimental Medulla? It will be interesting to see what Brazilian Girls decides to do musically once it gets tired of the club scene. But for now, we have Talk To La Bomb, and it has, in one fell swoop, dismissed any doubts about the band’s legitimacy, while offering a nearly solid 12tracks of sex, rhythms and mystery. And like all really good albums, it promises something even better down the line.