[8 February 2009]
David Byrne discovered Brazilian music in the 1980s and has been promoting it ever since. Now that his Luaka Bop label has decided to put out three three-song EPs on CDs made mostly of transparent plastic, the metal coil of the music only about an inch wide at the centre, it’s not a surprise to see that two of the musicians on these three discs come from Brazil.
One of the two is a samba-soul musician named Márcio Local. He has curly hair and sunglasses. The other is a sixteen-year-old called Vinicius Gageiro Marques, who used to post his songs online under the screen name Yonlu. The third disc belongs to the Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, a US group spearheaded by a man named Neil Fridd, who, onstage, wears a shirt and trousers covered with stuffed animals.
Local is the most undeniably Brazilian of the two Brazilians. He sounds like a slightly more relaxed Jorge Ben Jor, his voice lapping nicely at the Portuguese lyrics, fluttering into falsetto on “Samba Sem Nenhum Problema”, the brass cresting and slurring, the samba jinking through a guitar. Nothing radically unusual, but in this case that’s not a bad thing. A full album of this would not be too much.
Local’s songs are bold and celebratory. Yonlu’s are otherwise. The teenager’s voice is quiet, sometimes almost a mumble, and he sings about humiliation and shyness and wanting to die. In fact he killed himself two years ago. And yet, even listening to them now, with that knowledge hovering in the background, the songs are not depressing. Yonlu has—had—a sense of play which he wields with a light, dry, warm touch that deflects pity. Composing a track called “The Boy and the Tiger”, he adds animal effects to the song every time the tiger is mentioned—but none of the noises belongs to a tiger. “Tiger”, he says, and a horse whinnies. “Tiger”, he says, and an elephant squawks. Deadpan, he sings brushily on, though blurts of static and whistling and random piano. He shows an aptitude for songwriting that an older musician wouldn’t sneer at. Three Inches of Music: Yonlu is a tribute to a beautiful cult-sized career cut short.
Next to this, the third disc is an embarrassment. Terror Pigeon’s songs are discordant and repetitive, with loud smashing instrument parts and shouted choruses. They sound wild and silly and crude, but in a calculated way, as if there is an intelligence behind them carefully planning to make itself seem drunker than it is. The songs come across like jeers. We’re smart, we’re capable of more complicated music than this, but are we going to share it with you? Oh no. We’ll nurture our smartness here, behind this wall of shouts.
If this is a hangover from the ironic ‘90s then let the ‘90s end now.
I thought that this album sounded like a musical accompaniment to a spectacle rather than a set of independent tracks, and a quick search unearthed a blog entry which suggested that this impression wasn’t far from the truth. After watching the band live, the blogger wrote:
“Soon, members of the band Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt had outfitted half the audience with costumes ... wigs, hats, inflatable-pink dogs and monkeys … we had a regular Flaming Lips-style dance party on our hands. It continued for about 20 minutes, with the protagonist eventually changing into a suit of Christmas lights. Then, abruptly the show was over. It was perfect. There was no real opportunity to grasp what was going on, nor for it to go stale. As surprisingly as they had come, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt were gone.”
On the album we don’t have any of this to distract us, no pink inflatable dogs, no Christmas lights, no surprising, sudden abdications, and so the group’s impact rests entirely on its music. “Fucking fucking fucking fucking!” the musicians yell. “We’re gonna make it through all this shit! Fucking fucking fucking!” After Yonlu’s sincerity, this deliberate silliness made me angry. He’d died, and these people were squandering the life they still had on this? The members of Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt must be years older than Yonlu will ever be, but next to him they sound juvenile, spoilt, callow. There they are, wearing lights and toys, and meanwhile this talented kid is … oh if you really want to bawl fuck fuck fuck fuck then bawl it about that.