Monday, October 31, 2011

Gal Costa - Gal

A long way off from the last MPB I posted, Gal Costa's second eponymous 1969 album is firmly in the Tropicália camp with wild eclecticism, psychedelic production and bristling with the untamed energy that the Brazilian military government found so threatening at the time.  Worlds away from her more chanteuse-like debut, Gal even blows away a lot of the Tropicália competition in terms of craziness--I put it down to Gal's staggering vocal range and personality, which is self-evident on this album from the very get-go.  The syncopated beat and fuzz guitar opening of "Cinema Olympia" drops out almost immediately as Gal's seductive voice creates more of a lounge atmosphere, which soon disappears as well when the beat picks back up--by the time the chorus happens, Gal's hollering about matinee films at the Cinema Olympia over pounding snares and furious clean guitar riffing--heavy reverb and delay gradually accumulate on Gal's vocals as her wordless shouts and moans multiply before abruptly disappearing in a haze of strings...and then it's on to something completely different!  The detuned nylon string acoustic guitar and snake charmer reeds of "Tuareg" veer immediately left, and yet Costa seems to have no trouble keeping up when the bass grove kicks in and the chorus lifts the dark Eastern atmosphere back into pop territory.

It's easy to be impressed with both the stylistic breadth and quality of the songwriting on this album, and a glance at the credits confirms this gut reaction--there's three Gilberto Gil songs and two each from the pens of Caetano Veloso and Jorge Ben.  One of my favorite things about the late-60's Brazilian music scene is how communal and supportive it seems to be--all of these artists not only manage to co-exist, they also push each other into new directions and also manage to create a collective genre that's more than the sum of the bands that make it up.  The sky is the limit for the rest of the songs on this album--Gal ranges from ethnic Brazil flavor on Ben's "País Tropical," unexpectedly into sweeping string-arranged vocal pop (and a host of Tropicália artist name-dropping) on "Meu Nome É Gal" ("My Name is Gal") all the way to batshit crazy on the sound collage cut-up-cum-big band showcase for Costa's rapid delivery and upper-register bends on "Objeto Sim, Objeto Não."  Though I've got a feeling a lot of this can come across as too jumpy and frantic for a lot of listeners, the radical and immediate mood and texture shifts in this album are probably my favorite part--a song like "Com Médo, Com Pedro" snaps between quiet, jazzy strings and Hendrix-like hard rock, and Costa even trades between sexy and psychotic in the same lines!

The fact that these frenetic songs somehow hold together and make sense grouped on the same album has to be credited to both the songwriters and the backing band, who manage to not only keep up with the stylistic swings, but also to masterfully manage a chaotic atmosphere with deft control.  Listening to music like this, it almost feels like psychedelic music was created for the explicit purpose of being given to the already-able musicians of Brazil and mutated into something the British and Americans weren't even capable of imagining.  The eclectic mood, awesome power of Gal's voice, and simultaneous pop/avant garde atmosphere of this album make it probably my favorite Tropicália album, and it's also probably the most cohesively "listenable" (aside from the eccentricity) as well, since there's no obligatory six-minute tape manipulation freakout (though "Objeto Sim, Objeto Não" comes close).   If you check this out and enjoy it, good news--there's a whole lot more great music where this came from!

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