Eugene McDaniels – Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)

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“No amount of dancin’
Is going to make us free.”

The Left Reverend Eugene McDaniels

    Recorded at Regent Sound Studios and Atlantic Studios, New York City
1971 Atlantic SD 8281 (Original release)
This reissue 200_ by Scorpio/Rhino records

Acoustic Bass – Miroslav Vitous
Drums – Alphonse Mouzon
Electric Bass – Gary King
Featuring – Welfare City Choir
Guitar – Richie Resnikoff
Piano, Music Director – Harry Whitaker
Vocals – Eugene McDaniels, Carla Cargill

Producer – Joel Dorn
Recording and remix engineer – Lewis Hahn

Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply; Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair, manually auditioned, and individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp.  Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.


Inauguration day special, y’all.

Dim the lights for this one.

I’ve heard different rumors about Eugene McDaniels and the Nixon administration – that the FBI was tapping his phone, that Spiro Agnew himself called Atlantic Records to complain about this album, which would seem to indicate that the reactionaries were much hipper to popular culture than I personally give them credit for.  But it’s not too far fetched – his most famous song, Compared To What?, which became a huge hit for Les McCann & Eddie Harris and then again for Roberta Flack – may be the boldest, most biting sociopolitical critique to ever top a record chart, and has apparently been covered by 270 different artists by today’s count.  So I can believe that, for the forces of Empire, Eugene McDaniels was a man who had to be stopped.  Atlantic Records dropped him after Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse.  The record is a profound and mercurial work of art that is revolutionary, less in some kind of militant way than in its general refusal to fit into any preconceived framework.  Instead, it carves out its own space and leaves the listener transformed and looking at the world differently than before they put it on.  This album, and Eugene himself, were their own gestalt.

I’m still thinking that, someday, I will file a Freedom of Information Act on Eugene McDaniels to see what, if anything, the Deep State was thinking about him.  This is what how I imagine a summary of his file might read:

  “McDaniels, Eugene Booker.  Born February 2, 1935 in Kansas City.  Black communist singer with known jazz associates.  Calls himself a Reverend, may be planning to form a religious cult or commune – field reports are inconclusive.  Believes rock singer Mick Jagger to be the Antichrist.”

I have been wanting to post about this album at various moments throughout the last couple of years.  It’s become a relevant soundtrack again and a source of solace for me.  The enigmatic  McDaniels is truly one of the great unsung songwriters of the twentieth century, because I think he wanted it that way.   This record gets name-checked a lot because it’s been sampled by prominent artists. The grooves are undoubtedly deep, and the musicians first rate – in fact the notes to the 2005 reissue of this on Water Records, with the limited space they have, talk more about arranger and keyboardist Harry Whitaker than they do Eugene.  Granted, Whitaker is the special secret sauce that makes this album stand out from its 1970 predecessor “Outlaw.”  That album is also really great, but this one is explosive and astounding,  unquestionably a masterpiece.  It was made with almost no budget, with Whitaker doing the arrangements, and with minimal overdubs (mostly just vocals, except for the first track which has a second guitar and some percussion added).   H.W. deserves tons of credit for the sound and cohesiveness of the final product, but for me it is McDaniels’ voice, lyrics, melodies and above all his completely unique vision that make this an album about which I can say “There’s really nothing else quite like it.”   It was a boundary-defying fusion of funk, jazz, rock, and soul; a record that is utterly psychedelic without a single wah peddle or production gimmick, hell there isn’t even a solo anywhere here in spite of the fact that every one of the musicians were utter virtuosos.  Apparently Whitaker wanted to bring horns in on the record but they had no money for it.  I’m so glad they didn’t, because its sound of lean restraint became an essential characteristic of its sound.  It’s intense, but also relaxed.

When I say he is enigmatic I guess I just mean enigmatic to me, because he left a big musical footprint with an incredible career arc, but chose to spend most of his life rather quietly away from the spotlight.   We’ll have a look at his YouTube channel that he started sometime around 2010 in a minute, but first let’s recap the basic facts first. McDaniels was a huge cross-over hit-maker in the early 60’s with “100 Pounds of Clay,” a song so popular that my parents remember it from their high school days, and “Tower of Strength,” both when he went by Gene rather than Eugene.  In the middle of the decade he wrote the song that would end up being recorded innumerable times, Compared To What?, the royalties from which presumably left him set for life.  At the end of the decade, McDaniels features prominently on one of my favorite Bobby Hutcherson albums, the adventurous and politically-charged Now!   He never lost the pop instincts he honed early in his career, but chose to make uncompromising, uncommercial music.  Like one of the only other people I would put in his category, Andy Bey, he also had a classic jazz singers voice (check out Freedom Death Dance…), and a four octave range, and he apparently preserved both up to the very end, in spite of  – or is it because of? – disengaging from the crazy world of the music industry.  The guy was too deep for the machine to process, and he didn’t need the money, so he went and lived his life privately, and took very good care of himself.  Listen to this man speak for a few minutes about Compared To What.  He looks so great here, with no indication that he would pass away within the year

 

Now is the place where normally I might indulge in a track by track breakdown of this record.  I could do that, and maybe someday I will, but it should really be heard first, and I bet some of you haven’t played it yet.  So let’s all listen to it and meet back here in a month to discuss it?  Really, it does speak for itself, and has to be absorbed with all of its quirks.  It should be left to the listener to follow his labyrinthine thread that ties together end-times religious imagery; invective against war and calls for justice that are clever, funky, and tuneful; a story of how everyday life as a black man going about everyday capitalist acts (trying to exchange an item at a grocery store) can lead to a near race riot; and a narrative of the colonial “settling” of the United States, decrying the indignities visited on First Nations peoples.   This last track is the climactic closer to the album, The Parasite (For Buffy), which in spite of just having guitar-bass-drums and vocals, comes off almost orchestral in its sweep (which is definitely a testament to Whitaker, who I imagine standing in front conducting them all with a baton).  It’s a breathtaking unity of words, music, execution.  McDaniels vocal control here is worth a study of its own: the verses have a sweetness that becomes a snarl in schizophrenic increments, with the anger slowly being peeled back in single accents and intonations, replaced again by sweetness almost like he is trying to hold back the demon.  Until, by the end, his voice becomes a raw exposed nerve, with the final minute collapsing into literal screaming and the group attacking their instruments in a free-form festival of noise, an avant-garde blast, like the sound of the universe diving into its own navel.

You have to hear it to believe it.


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Ronnie Von – A Misteriosa Luta Do Reino de Parasempre Contra O Império de Nuncamais (1969)

Ronnie Von
“A Misteriosa Luta Do Reino de Parasempre Contra O Império de Nuncamais”
Original release Polydor (Brasil) LPNG 44.037, 1969
This reissue 2006 Discos Mariposa, Argentina

1- De como meu herói Flash Gordon irá levar-me de volta a Alfa do Centauro, meu verdadeiro lar
2- Dindí
3- Pare de sonhar com estrelas distantes
4- Onde foi “Morning Girl”
5- My cherie amour
6- Atlântida “Atlantis”
7- Por quem sonha Ana Maria?
8- Mares de areia
9- Regina e o mar
10- Foi bom
11- Rose Ann
12- Comecei uma brincadeira “I started a joke”

BONUS TRACKS
13. Meu Bem
14. O Pequeno Príncipe
15. Meu Mundo Parou
16. Paraíso

———

Here’s some more  pós-jovem guarda psychedelia  (or is it psychejovem guardelia-iê-iê?)  from former teen-idol and past and present TV star and show host Ronnie
Von!  Pretty heady stuff for such a heart-throb: the title translates as “The Mysterious Struggle of the Kingdom of Forever Against the Empire of Nevermore.” And this record was made before that North American whats-her-name made absurdly long and silly album titles trendy!   Of his three psych albums from the late 60s-early-70s, this only narrowly loses out to the third one as my favorite.  Mostly because it has one too many ‘cover songs’ of contemporary hits on it.  In particular, the rather odd choice of My Cherie Amor just doesn’t fit.  A Brazilian-Portuguese version of Donovan’s “Atantlis” is a campy highlight though, and his version of Jobim’s “Dindi” is just plain great.  I like his version of The Bee
Gee’s “I Started A Joke” even  if I prefer the original.  It’s got a very fuzzy guitar and everyone is accenting the down stroke (even the piano player!), giving the tune an unexpected headiness (or is it heaviness?) and it makes  a good closer for the album.  (Everything after that track consists of bonus cuts).

This record is best when it’s at its most psychedelic, which also happens to include most of the tunes co-written by Ronnie.  The opening cut is great, so is “Pare de
sonhar com as estrelas distantes”, features a sound collage bridge very much inspired by the Fab Four.  Von first got his start in music by way of a friendship with a group called The Brazilian Beatles and appeared on their TV show in 1965 singing “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” so it is only natural that his sound followed the instincts of their idols.  Although this kind of stuff was vociforously attacted by the reactionaries of the day as being an agent of imperialism and a “mass culture” threat, Von’s music isn’t nearly as derivative as all that.  He doesn’t attempt to ape Beatle-esque harmonies, and the approach to arrangements has its fair share of blue-eyed soul (or is it green-eyed soul?) and is just as inspired by contemporaneous Roberto Carlos.  In other words, he might have been heavily inspired by The Beatles – along with, um, pretty much everyone else recording pop music in 1969 – but there was far more derivative stuff being produced by pop and psych-pop contemporaries in the anglophone world.  There is quite a bit of originality here, and if I were to complain it would be that the record doesn’t have enough of Von’s own compositions.  He fixes that on his next record, however.

The track “Rose Ann” manages to squeeze English, Portuguese, and French into the same tune, briefly breaking down into an accordion-driven bit of chanson.  There’s some very nice vibraphone on this too.    Ronnie was really gifted at doing spoken parts in between his sung vocals.  I would like to hear him read an entire audio-book.  What great works of literature should we suggest to his agent?  Please leave your suggests in the comment suggestion.  Meanwhile, “You’re love will be, like summer to me.”

One of favorite tunes on the album is “Regina e o Mar,” which has a perfect blend of a groovy bass line and rhythm guitar, loose drums, creative string arrangements, Ronnie’s soulful vocal, and just the right amount of tape delay.  This tune is followed by an unexpected and equally groovy tune penned by Benedito da Paula, which adds horns to the previous winning combination.  No tape delay, though.  Oh well, it’s good to be sparing with it anyway.

Tagged at the end are some bonus tracks, including yet another cover (The Beatles’ “Girl”), which if the liner notes here are correct he managed to record without crediting them,  and Ronnie’s signature hit tune, “O Pequeno Principe”.  “Girl” / “Meu Bem” has a pretty wicked tremolo-surf guitar part.

This release on Mariposa Records (Argentina) is a needle-drop, and not a particularly good one, but it gets the job done.  Since my birthday is coming up soon, feel free to send me original vinyl copies as a gift.  Thanks!

Oh and I almost forgot – the bilingual booklet is a wonderful example of what happens when you use Google Translate to convert Brazilian Portuguese to English.  Fun!!

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Marcos Valle – Vento Sul (1972) with O Terço

“Vento Sul”
Marcos Valle
with O Terço

Released 1972 on Odeon SMOFB 3725
Reissued 2011 in the boxset Marcos valle Tudo

1 Revolução orgânica
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
2 Malena
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
3 Pista 02
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
4 Vôo cego
(Cláudio Guimarães)
5 Bôdas de sangue
(Marcos Valle)
6 Democústico
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
7 Vento Sul
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
8 Rosto barbado
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
9 Mi hermoza
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)
10 Paisagem de Mariana
(Frederyko)
11 Deixa o mundo e o sol entrar
(Paulo Sergio Valle, Marcos Valle)BONUS TRACK
12. O beato

Marcos Valle – vocals, piano
Ian Guest- orchestration and arrangements on `Bodas de sangue`
Hugo Bellard – orchestration and arrangements on `Deixa o mundo e o sol entrar`

O Terço:
Sérgio Hinds – electric guitar and coro
Vinícius Cantuária – drums, second vocal on ‘Revolução orgânica’, coro
César das Mercês – bass, and coro

Cláudio Guimarães – electric guitar
Fredera – electric guitar on ‘Pasagem de Mariana’
Robertinho Silva – drums, percussion
Paulo Guimarães – flute

Produced by Milton Miranda
Musical director – Lindolfo Gaya

———————-

“Vento Sul, from 1972, is an album very different from the earlier records – I experienced a lot in terms of rhythms, harmonies, melodies, arrangements and instrumentation. O Terço, one of the best bands of the era, accompanied me in all this and we recorded it all together. I also counted on the collaboration of Fredera, Robertinho Silva and the talented twins Cláudio and Paulo Guimarães (they were also part of the band in our shows). The bonus track here is a verion I did for Odeon of “O beato”, a song that was part of the soundtrack for the novela ‘Selva de Pedre.’

I consider this album a very experimental one: it was practically created in a modest fisherman’s house that we rented in Búzios, in a communitarian spirit. It marked my ‘hippie’ era…
– Marcos Valle, liner note / blurb

So here were are (finally) with the next installment as the Brothers Valle continue their trend of changing the approach to songwriting and recording and continued to make ingenious decisions regarding their musicians and production choices. This album features the band O Terço as part of the backing band, which unfortunately for Brazilians of a certain age will be associated with wanky overblown progressive rock from the mid-70s. But in their early days they were much more psychedelic, and I make no apologies for my own soft spot for early 70s prog. And on this album O Terço sounds more like the earliest O Terço than O Terço actually did by 1972 — the dreamy, acoustic haze from when Jorge Amiden was in the band (see the ‘Karma’ album also posted here). Also in the musician credits are stalwarts like Robertinho on the drums and Paulo Guimarães on flute

The marriage is a happy one. The album was recorded in Búzios, which was practically a hippie commune that received famous visitors like Joplin and Mick Jagger in the years leading up to this album, before it blew up into an overpriced tourist trap. It is the first album since 1963’s “Samba Demais” to feature songs that were not written by at least one of the Valle brothers. The collective creative process on this album is evident by how smoothly tunes like “Vôo cego” by Cláudio Guimarães and “Paisagem de Mariana” (Frederyko) fit in with the Valle’s tunes. In fact “Vôo cego” (or ‘Blind Flight’ in English) is one of my favorite songs on the album. It is followed by a beautiful instrumental tunes, ‘Bodas de sangue’, that was arranged by Ian Guest, someone I don’t know much about other than the fact that he also has album credits on Donato’s “Quem é quem” and on some Milton Banana Trio albums; and that, contrary to his very English-sounding name, he was in fact Brazilian and an important figure in jazz circles and taught quite a few students a music professor. The song is followed up by the quirky, somewhat experimental, somewhat silly ‘Democústico’, where you’ll hear an agogô played in an afoxê rhythm balanced against squiggly wah-wah guitar lines.

The lysergic textures of this record can hypnotize the unwary, so do not listen to this while operating heavy machinery. The title song “Vento sul” has an open, meandering, incompleteness to it that is equally charming and beguiling. Reflective lyrics dealing with the identity politics of alternative lifestyles in the tune ‘Rosto barbado’ give way to playfully schizoid moodshifts in ‘Mi hermoza’, which alternates between open acoustic strumming and big aural spaces to a chugging midsection that is about as hard-rocking as the Valles are likely to get. Sounds as much or more like an O Terço song than the tunes here actually written by O Terço members, in fact. It is followed by “Paisagem de Mariana”, a song that fits flows nicely in its surroundings and which bears a pretty heavy stylistic similarity to any number of Milton Nascimento/Ronaldo Bastos/Fernando Brandt compositions between 1970 – 72. “Deixa o mundo e o sol entrar” is a another gorgeous tune anchored in acoustic guitars with careful piano, occasional drums, and a meandering melody line that is as warm as the song’s title. It is a perfect finale for this masterpiece-in-miniature. For this reissue, I actually wish they had included a minute of blank audio / silence at the end in which to collect our wits. Not that “O beato” doesn’t fit with the rest of this — oddly enough, for a telenovela track, it is as equally hazy and tripped out as anything else on this disc. But the original album has a kind of poetic closure to it with “Deixa o mundo” that gets a bit lost when followed immediately by another song.

Since it is sandwiched in Valle’s discography between two giant albums, ‘Garra’ and ‘Previsão do Tempo’, it seems like `Vento Sul` may have gotten overlooked to some degree. At least one of my Brazilian friends who is old enough to have been alive when this album was released (unlike myself), and who is also more of an O Terço fan that I am, was completely unaware of it until I passed along this reissue to him. And as much as I personally love this album, it lacks any obvious hit singles or even anything that jumps out as particularly “catchy”, which could turn off listeners who are particularly enamored with the Valle Brothers’ pop sensibilities. Even though it has ‘big names’ attached to it, this album FEELS obscure, with repeated listenings never quite diminishing the sense that we are privy to some aural hidden treasure and secret between friends. These are qualities that should put it high up on the list of favorites for anyone into ‘cult’ favorite psychedelic Brazilian music from the late 60s and 70s. Marcos, in his blurb (too short to be called liner notes, really) seems to insinuate that this album is kind of an exception or even diversion in his discography, an experimental side-trip. It may be that, but it is also an exploration and perhaps a deepening of some of the aural territory he had already been traversing in the previous two albums. The next album, `Previsão do Tempo’, marks a return to more structured compositions, soul and funk influences, and songs that are easier to sing along to when you play them loudly. But don’t shrug off this album – it deserves a careful listen, with or without additional chemical enhancement.

Back cover liner notes, free translation (as in loose, as well as the fact that I don’t charge for this…)

I’m in the middle of the album. Five songs are already recorded. I’m certain that they are going to be some of the best things I’ve ever done. As good or better than “Samba Demais” (my first album) or “Viola Enluarda.”

The songs on this album were made with much care and tranquility, and I sincerely think that it’s been a long, long time since I’ve done anything that pleases me so much. I’ll say the same for the lyrics by Paulo Sérgio. We’re giving you the full picture of what we’ve recently been sketching out in our music. Nothing rushed, no worries about commercialism.

Paulo Sérgio came up with the idea to form a group. We formed one. It was a wonderful idea.

Sérgio, VInicius, Cézar, Frederico, Paulo e Cláudio (twins), Robertinho e Maurício Maestro. Musicians and people of the highest caliber.

We are working like eight arrangers. Every day we get together to hang out and talk and the ideas for each song keep coming. And the result couldn’t be better, I think; we all think so.

The album cover is from Juarez Macho, logically. Renato is responsible for the production and I can say that he also is part of the group, because he’s collaborating like a motherfucker with us on this album.

We are lucky to have the recording technicians are Zilmar and Nivaldo. Milton Miranda is the Director of Production, and is also one of the most sensational people I’ve ever known.

It’s all there.

– Marcos

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Karma – Karma (1972) {O Terço, Arthur Verocai)

Karma
“Karma”
Released originally on RCA-Victor 1972 (103.0046)
This reissue Selo Cultural 2010

01. Do Zero Adiante
02. Blusa de Linho
03. Você Pode Ir Além
04. Epílogo
05. Tributo ao Sorriso
06. O Jogo
07. Omissão
08. Venha Pisar na Grama
09. Transe Uma
10. Cara e Coroa Continue reading

Novos Baianos – É Ferro na Boneca (1970)

OS NOVOS BAIANOS
“É Ferro na Boneca”
RGE (XRLP-5.340)

1. “Ferro na boneca” – 2:02
2. “Eu de Adjetivos” – 3:01
3. “Outro mambo, outro mundo” – 2:45
4. “Colégio de Aplicação” – 4:11
5. “A Casca de banana que eu Pisei” – 2:20
6. “Dona Nita e Dona Helena” – 2:30
7. “Se eu quiser eu compro Flores” – 3:17
8. “E o samba me traiu” – 2:05
9. “Baby Consuelo” – 2:02
10. “Tangolete” – 2;21
11. “Curto de véu e Grinalda” – 2:28
12. “Juventude Sexta e Sábado” – 2:54
13. “De Vera” – 2:50

Novos Baianos

* Pepeu Gomes – guitarra
* Paulinho Boca de Cantor – vocal, percussão
* Baby Consuelo – vocal, percussão
* Moraes Moreira – violão, vocal, letras

with supporting band “* A Cor do Som” (Jorginho Gomes, Dadi)
* Luiz Galvão – letras
———————————-

This is a very heavily Tropicália-laden album from Novos Baianos (at this point in time called Os Novos Bahianos), and pretty extremely different from what they would become known for in their masterpiece follow-up, ‘Acabou Chorare’. In fact when I compare it to their next few albums I find I don’t think this is really that good.. The song “Tangolete” is almost the only thing here that sounds like it would have fit on their next couple records, and this is only a *maybe* and definitely not with the arrangement used here. But if it was from anyone else I would say its a pretty good Brazilian psych-rock album with some good arrangements and interesting instrumentation. Collectors of obscure ‘world’ psychedelia should love this. Fans more familiar with their transformation after their “encounters” with João Gilberto will doubtless like it but maybe more as a footnote to their other work. In other words, this is a historically important album but mileage may vary depending on how groovy you are or whether or not you need regrooving.

The title track leading off this album is pure Tropicália and would fit comfortably in between any of the tracks on Caetano’s first or Gal Costa’s first two albums. The track is, just as the title would imply, a lusophile mambo with some overwrought singing. The horn arrangments by H.L. Fietta really jump out and call your attention on this track. Both because they are some first-rate horn arrangements, and also because you might have noticed at this point that you will never again hear a Novos Baianos album with orchestration that is so prominent, with hippy-jazz flutes and real-jazz saxophones peppering the mix like day-glo axeita de dendê. Same with the following cut, Colégia de Aplicação. “A Casca de Banana que eu Pisei” is a fairly straight forward baião about slipping on banana peels, not much to say here. The tune “Baby Consuelo” is just plain annoying, but of course you may feel differently. Once again, the track “Tangolete” has something of the cadence of later compositions by Morais Morreira, but you might notice there is no *band* here as far as the Baianos are concerned — the arrangement is entirely made up of the orchestra and a lone bandoneón played by… somebody. The fact that this is the most memorable song on this album highlights the main problem I have with it — Most of these songs just kind of drift in one ear and out the other. Even if you find yourself digging it, you will be hard pressed to remember any of the melodies afterwards, which is a strong contrast to all of their later work. In spite of the hyperbolic liner notes from Augusto de Campos which assert that these songs are “100% in the rhythm of our musical revolution,” this is the sound of a band finding its footing on its first full-length recording, and there were a lot more memorable releases coming out of Brazil in 1970 to overshadow this one. Still, it is well worth giving it a listen and having around. The closing song, “De Vera” is a good ‘un that rocks the groove with some nice echoplexed, distorted, wah-wah guitar that works well to distract from the trite lyrics from Gavão. It’s a good closing to the short chapter of this phase of the Baianos story.

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Arnaldo Baptista – Loki? (1974)

1 Será que eu vou virar bolor?
2 Uma pessoa só (Mutantes)
3 Não estou nem aí
4 Vou me afundar na lingerie
5 Honky tonky (Patrulha do Espaço)
6 Cê tá pensando que eu sou loki?
7 Desculpe
8 Navegar de novo
9 Te amo podes crer
10 É fácil

All songs by Arnaldo Baptista except “Uma pessoa só” by Mutantes.

Recording in 16-tracks at Eldorado Studio (SP)
Produced by: Menescal/Mazola
Audio technician: Marcus Vinicius
Album cover by Aldo Luis, photo by Leila

Featuring: Dinho, Liminha, Rogério Duprat, Rita Lee, Rafa, and Arnaldo Baptista

The world of popular music is full of mythic figures whose eccentric reputations unfairly obscure and overshadow their actual contributions. Arnaldo Baptista is one such figure. In my younger days when I had just discovered them and was gripped by Os Mutantes “fever” (Mutant Mania?), I sought out this record with high expectations, knowing only that it was Arnaldo’s “nervous breakdown album” after which he took a long, um, “rest” and a break from the public eye. I admit I was slightly put off by the fugly album jacket design but I kept hope alive.

I brought it home full of eagerness, put it on the stereo expecting “The Madcap Laughs” and instead I got “The Madman Across the Water.” This is not a slam or a dis, as I will defend early Elton John and challenge anyone who wants to argue about it to a duel. Not a duel to the death with pistols or sabres, mind you, but maybe with a fencing foil. But still, Sir Elton doesn’t even rank in the realm of ‘loony’ tortured souls. So I was rather shocked to find myself listening to a subdued album of piano-driven rock music (hell, there isn’t any guitar on the whole record until the very end), rather than the Brazilian equivalent of “Oar,” “Easter Everywhere” or the aforementioned “Madcap.” What “Loki?” offers us is a piece of reflective pop music, a fragmented narrative of a life in the midst of post-psychedelic fragmentation of identity and doubt, of struggling with the ambiguities of celebrity and modernity, a “concept album” whose concept continually eludes the listener. For sure, the album is peppered with oddball, beguiling lyrics in praise of fruits and vegetables (“xuxu beleza, tomate maravilha”), lingerie, or an unexplained aversion to Alice Cooper, and his vocal delivery occasionally bursts into an odd Screamin’ Jay Hawkins warble, but for the most part Baptista’s stream-of-consciousness tales bring us a mix of the quotidian and the transcendent moments that made up a life lived to the limits of mental, spiritual, and physical exhaustion. For my money Baptista was the driving force behind Mutantes — I have never been terribly impressed with Rita Lee’s solo work, even the first two albums that Baptista produced. For me, those records are listenable largely by way of Arnaldo’s involvement; In fact her record “Hoje é o primeiro dia do resto da sua vida” is sort of a counterpart to this one.

But “Loki?” is far more tranquil and pensive; it’s occasional prog-rock flourishes never become cloying or annoying. Some of the songs flow one into the other in true rock-opera fashion. Mileage may vary, however, for the non-Portuguese speaker, as the music here is very much driven by the lyrics. Some of the tunes are self-referential to themselves; in other words, conjuring phrases and images already dealt with in other places on the album. I particular love his occasional use of an English lyric thrown in seemingly at random that matches perfectly the rest of what is going on musically and discursively. There are metaphysical musings – We are all one and the same person, I am the Alpha and Omega, and so on. “Uma Pessoa Só” is graced by the lush arrangements of Rogério Duprat, cradling Baptista’s explorations into the inner cosmos. And then there are moments of raw, confessional tenderness and intimacy — “Desculpe” and “Te amo podes crer” are both too plaintive and profound, too human and eternal, to suffer any hackneyed translations at my hands. My favorite song in the whole bunch is “Navegar de novo” which mixes reminiscence of going to the cinema with his girl, lamenting that the car he bought six months ago is already out of fashion, the tough impersonality of São Paulo; with musings about humanity, the speed of light, the conquest of space, of Brazil as being still a child, and, um, urban planning (I think..) Rita Lee sings backup on “Não estou nem aí.” The album ends with two minutes of an open-tuning 12-string solo guitar piece whose only lyrics, “I love myself like I love you. It’s easy. It’s easy,” his hushed voice mixed into the left channel as if he is whispering in your ear, before he ends the tune banging out guitar chords that rock out more than anything else on the record, giving way to a heavily-flanged fade out. The end. Like one of his more obvious anglophone parallels, one Roger Barrett, the album leaves me with the persistent feeling that there was (is) much more to the man than the “loony” tales and stories, the idiosyncratic behavior, the health problems. Don’t let the legend and the myth distract you from what this album is – a beautiful swan-song.

Additional info contributed by blog friend CK:

I love this album, which I bought back in the days of vinyl records. I’d
like to comment on the so-called Rita albums produced by Arnaldo. The
story that I’ve heard is that her first album, Build Up, was not
originally Rita Lees idea. Os Mutantes went into a forced recess due to
her husband Arnaldo deciding on an adventurous vacation with a friend
traveling by motorcycle from São Paulo to New York. Hitting into some
difficulties along the way (I think he made it to Panama), Arnaldo gave
up on the idea and returned to São Paulo to find Rita midway into an
album. So it was agreed that he can produce some of the remaining
recordings. So yes, he did have a hand in it, but its not like he was
the mastermind behind the helm of the whole thing.

Regarding her
so called second album, ‘Hoje É O Primeiro Dia Do Resto Da Sua Vida’,
the story of this album is quite well known. Mutantes informed their
record company that they have enough material for, and intend to,
release a double album. The record company explained that Mutantes did
not sell enough to warrant a double album. The compromise was to have
the second album out as a Rita Lee album, because she was always the
bands main pull or main attraction in minds of the populous. Arnaldo was
the musical genius, Sergio the guitar wiz kid, but it was Rita’s charm
and charisma that made Mutantes television friendly. So, this is really a
Rita’s album at all although it is officially credited to her.

Regarding
Loki the album, one of the important things to know about the album is
that it was recorded after Rita and Arnaldo split up. Almost all the
songs are directed to Rita in one way or another. Será Que Eu Vou Virar
Bolar questions his musical future without her (venho me apegando ao
passado e em ter você ao meu lado // trans.: I’ve been getting attached
to the past and with you by my side). Uma Pessoa Só is a rerecording of a
Mutantes composition form their 1973 album O A E O Z (The A And The Z),
that was shelved until the nineties. In Não Estou Nem Aí he shows
himself unwilling to deal with the pressures in his life; rather get
high every morning (Não estou nem aí pra morte, nem aí pra sorte/ Eu
quero mais é decolar toda manhã). Rita Lee and Lucy Turnbull, who at
that time were working as a duo called ‘Cilibrina do Eden’, sing
background vocals on this and the following Vou Me Afundar Na Lingerie.
Arnaldo jokingly tuants them (or maybe it’s a shout-out?) on Cê Tá
Pensando Que Eu Sou Loki? (Cilibrina pra cá / Cilibrina pra lá / Eu sou
velho mas gosto de viajar). Descuple is an obvious open letter to Rita
Lee that warranted her to write and record her answer Agora Só Falta
Você on her 1975 album Fruito Proibido. Certainly not the answer Arnaldo
was hoping for. Desculpe is heart breaking in it’s vocal
interpretation, and has Limninha and Dinho giving us pure Mutantes power
in its execution, with only brother Sergio absent. Te Amo Podes Crer
follows Navegar de Novo, both stream of conscience type lyrics, and
follows the pattern of woes for the person identified as ‘you’ that left
and doesn’t want to return. Its a sad record thematically, but
beautiful in it’s playing. The Last song É Facil, Arnaldo amazes me as
how good a guitar player he really is, although he hardly plays the
instrument, up to that point in his carrer.

NOTE #1: There is noticeable noise / digital drop-outs beginning at the 1 minute and 20 second mark on the track “Uma pessoa só”. You may only notice them if you use headphones or a accurate speakers for playback. I compared two different CD copies of this first pressing, and the noise is in the exact same place. Quite likely damaged master tapes. I recently came across a new remaster of this album released on by the Universal group. I have not heard it and am not too inspired to pick it up, since the first pressings on Philips typically sound better than the newer remasters.

NOTE #2: There is a documentary about Arnaldo Baptista also called “Loki.” To my chagrin and consternation I still have not managed to see it. I am sure it has some lovely anecdotes about this album. Hopefully nothing that will make my commentaries look silly (or sillier..).

 

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