Eden Express - "Ocean Samba (Tristeza)" (Que Amors Que)
Musicians use tropicalia as a sandbox. Groups just learning to play together let its strictures mitigate chaos while seasoned musicians can lean back into it and play around. Que Amors Que is an example of the former, but it’s not clear whether the bossa nova is preventing the band from expressing themselves more deeply or dressing up a lack of content.
Eden Express is a Memphis trio composed of Kip Uhlhorn (Panthers, Cloudland Canyon), his wife Kelly Uhlhorn and John David Lovelace. Kelly sings, and the core trio is helped on this record by a bunch of friends. Who plays what is a mystery. The Uhlhorns also lead a collaborative group behind the Odessa, a Memphis performance space that opened this year.
In its style, the record recalls The New Sound of my Bossa Nova, a defunct project by former Michigander Justin Shay. TNSBMB was ragged and hearfelt and used bossa nova to express simple songs of love. The comparison plays up the coldness of Eden Express and highlights a lack of intelligible lyrics and memorable melodies. The best song on Que Amors Que is a cover of "Loneliest People" by the Pretty Things. The cover doesn’t deviate much from the original apart from the flourishes, but it lets Kelly really sing instead of warbling and sighing. Hopefully, as the band learns to play together, they’ll write songs in which voice is more than textural.
Eden Express doesn’t take the genre apart and re-form it to help express something unique. This shallow engagement makes the choice of genre seem like a code or symbol. Tropicalia’s foreignness purifies it of the more complex meanings we ascribe to folk, and while the reference to the ‘60s and ‘70s is part and parcel with the rut we’re stuck in right now, one wonders what made these particular people want to perform in this style. What do they mean by playing the samba in 2008 in Memphis? When it was new, the tropicalia aesthetic was tied up with the ‘drop out’ culture common to that era around the world; this makes it seem to fit with setting up art spaces along the Mississippi. Yet dropping out made a different political statement then than it does now – then, it looked toward something great (fluorescent colors, LSD, what have you) and was in opposition to restrictive social mores of the time. Playing the samba now looks back, aesthetically speaking, and makes Eden Express look like social recluses, isolationists even, scorning the future by emulating the past.