Music

Kassin Tempers Bossa Nova Vibe with Darker Themes on 'Relax'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Multi-instrumentalist/producer Kassin's latest album is a missive from a place of post-divorce reflection.

Relax
Kassin

Luaka Bop

11 May 2018

In the 1950s when Brazil's bossa nova hipsters began to rise in prominence, one of the criticisms leveled at the self-consciously sophisticated and artistic music was that the singers, such as Astrud Gilberto, were "out of tune". As a playful rebuttal, bossa godfather Antonio Carlos Jobim and lyricist Newton Mendoça wrote the hit "Desfinado" or "Out of Tune", turning the phrase into a story about a lover rejected by a judgmental aficionado. Since that time, there has often been an undertow within the flow of Brazilian popular music: a pinch of salt to offset the balmy tropical sounds; a discordant note amid the sweet harmonies; a sudden offbeat to play off the otherwise-insistent rhythms.

Producer-songwriter Alexandre Kassin plays with those Brazilian/anti-Brazilian elements throughout his new album. The intricate arrangements demonstrate Kassin's mastery of modern music production and manipulation: it's a sort of Quentin Tarantino-like knowingness that makes the art both of - and separate from - the pop music it resembles. Kassin is a successful producer and musician and is best known as one of the +2 trio, which includes Moreno Veloso, son of Brazilian icon Caetano Veloso. The trio has released several records where each member takes a turn being the front person and created the retro big band samba group, Orquestra Imperial.

The album was reportedly recorded in a period of Kassin's life when he was recovering from a bad divorce, and certainly, both the darkness and willed attempt to get to brighter territory seem to be there throughout. Relax often sounds like a contemporary take on bossa nova, with a gentle but ineluctable swing and understated vocals. Kassin's take, at times, goes extra-quirky with sharp, angular counter-rhythms and accents of playful electronics. The overall sound can be – such as on the title cut - reminiscent of a more polyrhythmic Steely Dan - a smooth, cool ambiance of electronic keyboards and sophisticated, jazzy arrangements that simmer but never get roiling.

"Relax" is a mid-tempo song with a sweet chorus, chunks of funk guitar and a punchy brass section that cruises along easily even when the arrangement gets pretty busy. "Estricnina," skitters along on a rapid-fire high-hat and cymbals, but the trebly staccato organ (which at times to be playing frenetically in the studio next door) hints at the darker theme of the narrator singing of taking the poison strychnine. The song juggles its bleak themes on top of the chattering percussion, undercutting its haunting feel with a competing quirkiness.

One of his breakup songs is "A Paisagem Morta", with a muted insistent beat overlaid by a somber atmosphere, a song about hitting bottom and trying to move forward after a romantic breakup. It ends with a hopeful swelling of instruments and chorus. "As Coisa Que Nos Nao Fizemo" is also about divorce and has a methodical, reflective groove. Kassin bounces back with "Momento de Clareza," a frothy tune powered with a waka-waka rhythm guitar and some melodic woodwinds.

The lead-off song is "Comprimidos Demais" about a couple that uses mood-controlling drugs. The song starts with a mechanistic, off-kilter drum arrangement, then melts into a dreamy groove with squishy organ and deadpan vocals. "Sua Sugestao" is the poppiest tune on the album, the rushing rhythms and overlapping musical elements are kept in check with Kassin's deadpan vocal delivery.

Overall, Relax is not a depressing and heavy "break-up album", but feels its way along some mottled territory while employing some sophisticated arrangements and quirky sounds. While a gifted producer, Kassin has a limited voice, which may be a turn-off to some listeners even as he builds interesting arrangements around it. Kassin seems to be busying himself with the infinite decisions inherent in a thoughtful, creative music-making process; introspective and fascinated by life; making music that is richly textured, but rarely breaking into pop sunniness.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.