Sonantes is one of those albums that call themselves music “for imaginary films.” It starts like an imaginary film too, with drifting percussive echoes that keep you waiting for the imaginary credits to end and the imaginary action to kick in. Action arrives in the form of CéU, the Brazilian singer who released her solo debut album through this label last year. She rolls words out of her mouth like soft balls of fur. There’s a lot of this fur-cornered softness on the album, that yielding melt that belongs to bossa nova. Sonantes wears its Brazilian nationality consistently but gently. This country seems to have perfected the art of the tender drive, the melody that makes a strong impact without pounding or shouting. Instead it shuffles forward inexorably with steady, switching hips and a smile on its lips. It brings out a samba and disarms you if you let it. This is the side of Brazilian music that the Sonantes collective has decided to work with.
The music here is almost constantly cheerful, not outright joyful, but filled with mild happiness, the sound of people who are satisfied by life. Occasionally there is a suggestion of moroseness, handily overcome. “Itapeva 51” starts with menacing guitar chords and wind effects that might have come from a post-rock band, perhaps Godspeed You! Black Emperor or something else like it, but after about a minute and a half a group of voices enters the song, and we segue into an upbeat African sound.
CéU’s name is the one that comes at the front of all the publicity material, since she’s the member of this collective most likely to be fresh in the minds of the buying public, but the album itself is more egalitarian than that. Some of the tracks are CéU-less instrumentals, the work of Alexandre Denge and Pupilo from Chico Science’s old band Nação Zumbi and of other friends who happen to be the composers of actual film scores. I was thinking that the fifth track sounded like the music to a James Bond film, not the harder Daniel Craig Bond but the old one, debonair and spyful in a tux, when I checked the title and realised that the spy movie ambiance might not just be a figment of my imagination. The track is called, “Looks Like to Kill”. “Mambobit” takes place in the ballroom of a hotel where the house band is playing a tune so innocuous it would sound cheesy if Sonantes hadn’t pre-empted your reaction by throwing in the noise of an audience whistling and applauding with goofy sincerity at every dated flourish. “Ba ba ba ba ba,” sing the musicians, as if it meant something. They don’t sound as if they’re drawing on this 1950s ambiance so that they can distance themselves from it: they’re having fun with it, not making fun of it.
This, then, is a good-humoured album, mild-mannered, laid-back, and enjoyable, an album without fury or evil thoughts, a set of songs like a beach holiday. As music “for imaginary films” it doesn’t really work because the songs are too self-contained. They don’t seem to need moving pictures to accompany them, and the invitation isn’t there. That James Bondish “Looks Like to Kill” is the only one that seems to want a story. The rest don’t need that much action. This is music for hammock weather.