Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub
It seems like, in every review of any Portugese-language rock band, the Os Mutantes comparisons start flying; especially if it’s a psych band. It’s inevitable. After all, Os Mutantes are the most-conspicuous example of Latin psychedelia. It’s easy. It’s also lazy.
That said the new album from Amsterdam-based Fumaça Preta (Portugese for Black Smoke) DOES bear certain resemblances to certain Tropicalia stalwarts. But I hear even more Tom Zé (in the vocals and in the appropriation and adaptation of certain rhythms) and early Gilberto Gil (in the guitar sounds) than I do Os Mutantes, I also hear a whole lot of Sabbath and Zappa, too.
Bandleader/percussionist/producer Alex Figueira and his crew announce their arrival with otherworldly howls at the beginning of "Pupilas Dilatadas" (Dilated Pupils). It’s a sudden shock to the system that is an absolute attention grabber. Then the snare starts playing a march, and the classic Hammond B3 sound that we all know and love pops up before it all settles into a groove. Soon enough fuzz guitars, additional percussion, and a variety of unidentifiable sounds join the aural assault.
The Bossa beat of "Toda Pessoa" propels slightly discordant, jazz-inflected guitar lines, fuzz bass, and chant-along vocals before a distorted saxophone solo bursts forth. "Eu Era Um Cão" throws in some airplane sound effects, synths, a funky beat, and some congas for good measure.
The title track opens with a riff so heavy that Black Sabbath would have a difficult time picking it up. And then, instead of getting even more psychedelic, they fly into a breakneck punk rock groove. Screamo-style. Song after song, the sonic assault continues, with only the occasional respite provided by something like the Hammond-focused "Voce Enlouqueceu".
There is absolutely nothing pop about this record; not a single attempt to court the mainstream. A lot of effort has been taken to make it sound authentic – like 1969. The recordings are all red-lined, making it sound as if everything is just on the verge of breaking apart and distorting; like it is all being run through overdriven vacuum tubes. But, listen closely and you can hear some of the modern electronic gadgets and production techniques that have been injected into the sound.
Yes, Fumaça Preta can be difficult at times. But, no matter how noisy things get, Figueira makes sure that the groove remains and that it reigns supreme. Every song on the record is brilliantly arranged, with a sense of playfulness that is totally engaging. It’s a sonic assault that has enough twists and turns to keep you smiling all the way.
For the more-adventurous listener, this could wind up being not just one of the best psychedelic releases of 2014, but one of the best releases of the year, period. Bravo!
CD, Vinyl & Digital all available here.