Chris Moore’s Artist of the Week: Os Mutantes

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We all grew up with some sort of psychedelic American rock band or singer. Don’t even deny stealing your mom or even your grandma’s vinyl back in the day, now you love her just a little bit more.  However, all those greats are over played.  Plus, we live in San Francisco, so, all the American psychedelic hits get overplayed twice as hard.  What most Americans seem to overlook is how there was political and social confliction elsewhere in the world during the 60s/70s.  Each global territory had its own problem, but psychedelic rock became a universal canon of free expression. While we fixated eyes on The Beatles or Hendrix…equally, if not better, music was being produced outside of the Western world.

In 1966 in Brazil, Arnaldo Baptista (Bass, Keyboards, vocals), Sérgio Baptista (Guitar, vocals) and Rita Lee (femme fatal lead vocalist) formed the Os Mutantes.  Their first two albums,self titled, “Os Mutantes” and “Mutantes,” were a folk-tropicalia-acid affair.  Fusing genres with wit and skill, they got recognized by tropicalia guitarist legend, Gilberto Gil.  However, the Brazilian military dictatorship exiled Gil, for his music and views did not meet eye to eye with the powers-that-be.  By association, the Brazillian government set their scopes on Os Mutantes.  Os Mutantes redirected their sonics to a harder but still playful version of psychedelic rock with “A Divina Comedia ou Ando Meio Desligado” (Divine Comedy or I Walk a Bit Disconnected).

“Divine Comedy” from front to back, should be up there with the greats.  The first track, “Ando Meio Desligado” is seductive, funky and surprisingly wild.  A great premier exhibition of the talents of Os Mutantes.  The second song, “Quem Tem Medo de Brincar de Amor” exudes Mutantes love for antics. They switch between tight hip shaking riffs  that even a uptight Mod could get down to, then breaking instantly, to comical-circus organs and children giggling.

“Ave Lucifer”, a sonically warped and haunting track, showcases Mutantes experimental rock composition that even Brian Wilson would admire.  Baptista’s clean guitar with its “wah,” sounds something straight out of a candle-light pagan sacrifice. Sérgio Baptista bows in heavy Cello sweeps. While Lee’s voice balances in with delicate purity.  The song goes from haunting to creepily ceremonial as thermans, harps, horns and toms are thrown into the mix.  Corruption encroaches on the track as, Baptista reverses it all, and lets it go back to its original haunting refrain.

“Descuple, Babe” and “Hey Boy” reflect obvious American influences on Mutantes.  Tropicalia and the Beatles mash within “Desculpe, Babe”. Reverb never sounded so good as they harmonically shout “Gloria!”  Good ol’1950s rock is the mode of “Hey Boy”.  It got the swinging stutter piano, the glee like choral of “bum-ba-bum”, booty call whistles, seductive singing by Lee and a sharp guitar solo by Arnaldo Baptista.  It wouldn’t be a far stretch if diners in Brazil had these two songs on lock in the jukeboxes.

My favorite track on Divine Comedy is “Meu Refrigerador Não Funciona.”  A gut-wrenching psychedelic blues ballad, which goes from depression to insanity in the flare of organs, trumpet solos, crashing drums and improvised vocal jittering.  The most amazing aspect of this song, apart from the tightness of emotional playing, but the power of Rita Lee’s voice.  Janis Joplin would have been pulling out her hair.

The last two songs, “Haleluia” and “Oh! Mulher Infel” are pure freak-outs.  “Haleluia” starts off slow with church-like but drony organs with a church choir harmoniously lifting the main title.  It quickly picks up from classical to gospel then goes even faster to a tribal level: a sonic interpretation of enlightenment, perhaps?  “Oh! Mulher Infel” is just heavy, destructive and unrestrained.  The drum solo right off the bat, savagely beats the norm out of Tropicalia percussion.  Then, with a count on a single drum hit comes Baptista’s furiously fuzzed out guitar that rips all space around it.  An instrumental jam out of ferocity and craftsmanship making even hard-psychadellic rock acts like MC5 look like goons.

Os Mutantes pushed the sound and composition of Psychedelic music.  The American greats are cool.  But, Os Mutantes is the stuff that the old hippies that push the same records today on the oldies channels, could only conceive of on an intense LSD trip.

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