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V/A - Brazilian Guitar, Fuzz Bananas

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Artist: V/A

Album: Brazilian Guitar, Fuzz Bananas

Label: Tropicalia in Furs

Review date: May. 5, 2010

”You can just imagine the scene. The DJ receives a record. He hears something he likes! So he plays it, on air. And he quickly realizes he messed up – big time. The music, though powerful, is just too deep for his listeners. The silence is deep in the room. His producer frowns. The song ends, and the DJ intones, ‘…so let’s continue with the original program…’” This is how Joel Stones imagines the songs on his exhaustively, obsessively researched Fuzz Bananas compilation first slipped into obscurity. And given the basic level of comprehension most people (including myself) really have of Tropicalia, it’s not that surprising that these heavy psych pieces ended up sinking to the bottom. Before going too far, though, it’s worth revisiting how we got here in the first place.

The past decade or so has seen a particular increase in tropical excavation. Interest in the Brazilian movement has never truly gone away, what with the original pioneers still kicking around, and pop scions like Kurt Cobain and Beck carrying the torch through much of the 1990s. But Caetano Veloso’s 2002 remembrance of the movement, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, definitely kicked off a flurry of renewed interest. A handful of compilations would follow quickly. Endemic disciples rolled into the spotlight, like Seu Jorge on Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. And then Os Mutantes reunited, putting out their first new material in more than 30 years and playing major festivals worldwide. Even Soul Jazz finally threw their hat into the ring with Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound.

There’s a lot of money to be made in the comp-as-primer game these days, what with the enormous amount of crate-diggers, dilettantes, ethnomusicological completists, and flat out bandwagoneers trying to stay a step ahead of their friends. The more obscure, the more lost, the more foreign the genre, the better. When done well, records like Psych Funk 101 really do provide the perfect exposure to new old forms of music from around the world. But to stop with these surveys would be a mistake, as the picture is far from complete. These records aren’t signs of an eclectic palate but of just how little we really know about those far-flung musical communities. Which was largely the basis for Stones’s own exploration. “You won’t find Os Mutantes or their maestro Rogerio Duprat on this compilation,” he writes in the introduction. Because the collective consciousness has already redigested them. Fuzz Bananas goes back for the secret history.

In hindsight, it’s easy to wonder why some of these songs never received proper releases, but Stones’s notes put the peculiarities of many of these records in perspective. The nihilism and seemingly sui generis inception of Loyce E Os Gnomes had to have been a shock to rural Sao Paulo in 1969. Rock ‘n roll had only passed from palatable to popular not that long ago, and now “Era Uma Nota De” and “Que E Isso” were taking to new damaged heights. The ideas were fresh, but the sounds were too much. Even the ideology approached similarly radical limits. “Ele Seculo XX” by Com Os Falcoes Reais is about revolution in two ways: it co-opts the colonial force of the Beatles to create a new tropicalian order while also weighing in on the Vietnam War. It’s a stance that only becomes more complicated when you consider that a modern day Apocalypse Now would have no problem slipping this song into a patrol boat sequence.

Which perhaps wouldn’t be that far off. Many of the artists here were either engaging directly with other popular music of the time or became associated with them pretty quickly. Serguei garnered a reputation as the “Brazilian Iggy Pop,” more than likely the Iggy of Berlin if the Bowie tones of “Ourico” are any indication. Bands like Mac Rybell were also doing the important work of drawing attention to the lesser hits of acts like the Rolling Stones to the adoring foreign audience. I couldn’t tell you the last time I heard “The Lantern” before it showed up here, but I can say it’s been a whole lot since. And while it’s doubtful that James Brown ever learned much Portuguese, Fabio’s got a pretty damn convincing funk translation going on in “Lindo Sonho Delirate.”

Syncretism and synchronicity also lead to strange psychedelic convergences that can occur on a global scale. The bizarre figure of Italian Spiderman circa 1968, something any rational person would’ve assumed was one of those stranger than fiction nuggets peculiar to YouTube, apparently had a Brazilian counterpart in the form of Celio Balona’s “Tema de Batman.” Which has to make you wonder what else is lurking in the strange, acid-laced corners of obscurant popular culture. Are there other Marvel knock-offs out there that sound like this? And is it still going on? Is this how American superheroes sound to the global hallucinogenic community? What if Iron Man 2 got the same treatment today?

Absurd digression aside, there is a deeper point about the significance of such thorough compilations as this. The proper research, care and collection of genuinely hard to find and significant cultural artifacts such as those found Fuzz Bananas can help shed light on not just the time and place they were made, but how we consume culture — particularly in the digital archaeology we engage in on the Internet. Seemingly unrelated crumbs of history are held up next to each other, and the relationships are laid bare. Italian Spiderman and Brazilian Batman are revealed to have the same soundtrack. We’re provided with a measure of Jimi Hendrix’s penetration into South American psychedelia with the Pops’ “Som Imaginario De Jimmi Hendrix.” Remains of the British Invasion are revealed both in the hostile takeover (or is it liberation?) of “I Wanna Be Your Man” by the Youngsters. And maybe we’re even provided with a bit of precognition: 14 Bis’s “God Save the Queen” is definitely more respectful than the Sex Pistols, but you can hear the imperial shackles starting to fall. Generalist surveys like Psych Funk 101 provide global context for seemingly unrelated sounds and scenes. But the vertical dive into a single genre like this can provide an uncanny glimpse at how certain communities reimagined what was popular at the time, and also what would ultimately rise to popularity.

It’s important, however, not to overstate one’s own knowledge when coming out the other end of this Fuzz Bananas. Joel Stones is clearly working his way down the iceberg, but we haven’t even breached the surface. Stones himself says he “didn’t even know that most of these records even existed.” So to walk away with a sense of anything more than greater appreciation and awareness for the sheer breadth of Brazilian guitar music would be an egregious overstatement. Expertise is an impossibility at this juncture; like the man said, there is too much depth. But it’s a testament to Stones’s own ability to curate, select and craft a coherent history that would even allow a person to assume such a posture. In his introduction, Stones asks “How can you search for something that you don’t even know exists?” He also states “Throughout my search, I think I’ve stumbled upon a truth.” The fact that he jumpstarts our own impossible search and enlightened stumble in the same breath is what makes this collection a real treasure.

By Evan Hanlon

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