Brazilian singer-songwriter Thiago Nassif pulls off a bizarre tropicalia triumph on Mente | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Brazilian singer-songwriter Thiago Nassif pulls off a bizarre tropicalia triumph on Mente 

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click to enlarge Thiago Nassif

Thiago Nassif

Courtesy the Artist

The spiky, new wavy, herky-jerky pop rock of Mente, the new album from Brazilian singer-songwriter Thiago Nassif, may remind you of Talking Heads. But the link between them arises more from shared influence than from direct inspiration: like David Byrne, Nassif is in love with the fractured tropicalia of Tom Zé, a tripped-out Brazilian genius who never met a samba melody he couldn’t turn inside out and perforate with a spork. Zé’s beyond-left-field-and-into-the-bleachers approach to songwriting has inspired generations of Brazilian artists who make oddball experimental music. A large swath of those recent acolytes—including Rio-underground-famous figures such as singer-songwriters Negro Leo and Ana Frango Elétrico—show up on Mente to lend a hand to Nassif’s mix of funk, rock, feedback raunch, and bossa nova, which he chops into bits and spackles together with love and squonk. Veteran avant-gardist and Brazilian-music fiend Arto Lindsay—who’s worked on records with Byrne and Zé—produced the album, and he adds his distinctive guitar to “Soar Estranho” and “Feral Fox.” Nassif piles up an unwieldy melange of genres and takes a nonlinear approach to fusing them, but what makes Mente truly weird is how accessible it is despite all that. “Voz Única Foto Sem Calcinha” is a bunch of disjointed sproings and squeaks that resolves as if by magic into a dreamily dissonant bossa nova without losing its strangeness; “Pele de Leopardo” sounds like robots dancing while falling apart. Zé himself would be hard-pressed to combine off-the-wall adventurousness, pop instincts, and explorations of roots music into an odder agglomeration than Nassif does here. You can’t get much higher praise than that.   v

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