Brazilian music has long informed the pop charts in North America and Europe indirectly, but the rise on the independent scene in the new millennium can be traced to a handful of specific dates: The release of “City of God” in 2002 - just as culture-plundering college kids were getting their bearings with torrents and life beyond Kazaa spyware - was the first. Diplo’s much-publicized jaunt to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in 2004 was next, resulting in a host of mixtapes and the birth of Hollertronix. By the time The Guardian had given a primer of baile funk in 2005, the slippery slope to Bonde do Rolê and CSS wasn’t long in following.
São Paulo duo Télépathique is trying to capitalize on this by letting you know just how Brazilian they really are on their debut, Last Time on Earth. Emphasis is placed on how DJ/drummer/producer Erico Theobaldo remixed a song on the “City of God” soundtrack that became a massive hit(!). Vocalist Mylene Pires has put out solo work heavily indebted to African and Brazilian traditionals. The recording of this album coincided with carnival season in Rio in 2005. They’ve played major festivals at home and abroad with Massive Attack, Hot Chip and Diplo. This is the real thing. This is Brazil now.
Except that Last Time on Earth is a better representation of Eurotrash dance-pop than it is a nation of over 183 million people. For all of the namedrops and knowing explanations that this is equal parts electro and old school bossa-samba-baile-whatever, Télépathique comes off instead as a lesser Ladytron. The native nods are limited; instead, tracks like “Telefunk” and “UR a Joke” thrive on jittery breakbeats. Elsewhere, “Love and Lust” has a high-pitched guitar reminiscent of many Flock of Seagulls ripoffs. Pires processes her voice in some places and buries it beneath the mix in others. She’s probably a sublime vocalist on Brazilian folk songs. Too bad there’s no chance to uncover any of that raw presence here. “I’m Not the Man” almost seems like an in-joke where they tried to see how much Pires could sound like The Knife’s Karin Dreijer.
The defense: It’s a party album. Okay. We get it. Everybody gets it. This is not the sound of the thinking man’s Brazil. Worrying about what President Lula will do next and articulating the conditions of those omnipresent favelas just isn’t fashionable here. Why bother with Camaro Guarnieri or Gilberto Gil or Caetano Veloso when you can hear a reductive mash-up of Portishead and your average 8-bit devotee? Here’s one answer: By limiting itself to the glory of youthful insouciance and those parties from the “Vice Guide to Travel,” Télépathique systematically erases the rich culture it exploits in promo sheets and ignores almost entirely in practice. The first words on this record are, “I’m not what you think I am.” Hard to say it better, really.
São Paulo’s city motto is “Non ducor, duco,” Latin for “I am not led, I lead.” Télépathique might have led that wave of Brazilian blog bands if this album had actually found North American distribution in 2006. As it stands, Last Time on Earth feels more like a retroactive warning of what was just about to hit critical mass. Unabashedly shallow, extraordinarily juvenile, totally in-the-moment, Télépathique have made a record that will sit well with the live-fast-die-young dance crowd. Boredom will kill them if the Scuderie Detetive le Cocq doesn’t first.