Bala Desejo (2022) | Photo: Lucas Vaz
Bala Desejo (2022) | Photo: Lucas Vaz

The Progressive Nostalgia of Bala Desejo’s ‘SIM SIM SIM’

To fans of Brazil’s 1960s tropicália and 1970s psicodelia, Bala Desejo will sound like a natural extension. SIM SIM SIM is warm and gorgeous.

Bala Desejo
Coala Records
13 April 2022

Some people believed the pandemic would stir up some sort of artistic renaissance, and in Brazil, it did. That was the environment where projects such as Bala Desejo bloomed. 

Julia Mestre, Dora Morelenbaum, Zé Ibarra, and Lucas Nunes, each with their own credentials in the Brazilian independent music scene, moved in together in a house in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, to make music during the pandemic. They would quickly become frequent guests at the popular live stream concerts held by samba singer Teresa Cristina during quarantine. Their first full album, SIM SIM SIM (“YES YES YES”), was fragmented into two EPs, Lado A and Lado B, both released in early 2022.

While Lado A and Lado B made more sense as separate experiences, the full listen is nevertheless engaging. SIM SIM SIM moves smoothly, almost naively, around jubilation, desire, and fear, following the hint of the group’s name (“bala”, in Portuguese, means both “bullet” and “candy”, while “Desejo” means “desire”). 

Recorded to convey the same intimate, organic feel of hearing the musicians playing live in their room, SIM SIM SIM is a microchamber of warmth. It’s nostalgic in how it rescues the straight melodic lines of MPB and samba-canção of the 1960s, of vocal groups such as Quarteto em Cy, in songs like “Baile de Máscaras” and “Lua Comanche”. But arrangement-wise, SIM SIM SIM is also a yes to many other sides of Brazilian music, such as reggae (“Clama Foresta”), rock (“Nesse Sofá”, “Muito Só”), and funk-soul (“Faixa Técnica”). It even embodies Brazil’s complicated relationship with Latinidad as well, reciting García Lorca in “Nana del Caballo Grande”, and mixing Cuban salsa with the progressive rock of “Dourado Dourado”.

SIM SIM SIM drinks heartily from an ocean of sounds, singing styles, and aesthetics canonized in Brazil’s cultural repertoire as belonging to ’60s Tropicália and ’70s psicodelia. The album is like a continuation of these movements rather than a tribute or an imitation. Bala Desejo evokes the experimentation of groups like Novos Baianos and Mutantes (Rita Lee, Mutantes’ lead vocalist and one of the most successful soloists in Brazil history, is an obvious resemblance to SIM SIM SIM’s “Lambe Lambe”). In that sense, Bala Desejo is future-oriented in that it starts from the same point where those prior progressive icons stopped. 

To say SIM SIM SIM is like a breath of ocean-fresh air in Brazil’s current musical landscape would be unfair to Bala Desejo’s contemporaries (Brazilian pop music and MPB are currently doing very well). Instead, the music by Bala Desejo is like a familiar wind that blows softly, but firmly, like a joy chant sung around a candle that risks being blown out. If we were to change the question from “is SIM SIM SIM innovative?” to “is SIM SIM SIM one of the most gorgeous projects of the last years?”, the answer would be: sim, sim, sim. 

RATING 7 / 10