Words by Gareth Thompson
At a Brazilian music festival in 1966, the audience openly jeered spoony balladeers or complex composers. Sérgio Ricardo was deemed the latter and his number ‘Beto Bom de Bola’ got roundly heckled. Despite the song being critical of Brazil’s dictatorship, its melody and orchestration were too intricate for mass approval. Ricardo called the audience a bunch of animals, smashed his guitar and hurled it at them. He was disqualified from the festival.
Whatever lessons Tim Bernardes has learned from history, he clearly feels that poetry and politics don’t have to mix. For his second album, Mil Coisas Invisíveis, the Brazilian songwriter delves into his homeland’s Tropicália tradition, a style which combines folk elements with universal pop and a psychedelic sheen. The whole Tropicália movement was given its name by the artist Hélio Oiticica in 1967, punning on cliches of Brazil as some tropical Eden. By then, an American-backed military coup had given power to an oppressive right-wing regime. Fast forward to 2022 where the government of Jair Bolsanaro has demonised the arts and assaulted Indigenous rights. Brazil remains one of the most unequal nations on earth, despite being among the wealthiest. Plenty there, you’d think, for any troubadour to rage about.
But there’s more to music than banging some radical drum until it shatters. Acoustic contemplation and lush opulence merge on Mil Coisas Invisíveis, evoking oceans, rugged hills and superb blue skies. Bernardes offers a breezy and beachy sound that’s mostly about celebrating the amorous. Tropicália was always big on staying immune to established structures. And since when did true love ever abide by the rules? Romance and revolt can stroll hand in hand, Bernardes implies.
With his swoony good looks (long brown hair, Ghandi specs, lavish tache) Bernardes is the vivid epitome of counterculture. His urban serenades are played out on nylon-string guitars, horns and violins, while his soft-core vocals dissolve into humid melodies on tracks such as ‘Nascer, Viver, Morrer’ and ‘Fases’. Lyrically he takes a fairly Zen-haiku approach: ‘Illusion is part of falling in love…O great sun in the universe/Cosmic moonlight’ he offers on ‘Mistificar’, a song so sensual it might yet be forbidden. (Lyrics translated).
The road trip daydream of ‘BB (Garupa de Moto Amarela)’ is idyllic, with its string arrangements redolent of Chinese classical music. ‘Realmente Lindo’ echoes the trippy folk-soul of Fleet Foxes circa Shore, whereas ‘Meus 26’ brings quiet joy and consolation. Despite their chilled tempos, these songs feel as erotic as any funk-driven groove. ‘Falta’ celebrates the act of feeling horny, as aural and oral pleasures unite. ‘Esse Ar’ fairly trembles and swells as Bernardes captures ‘This wet air, night air/Raw and refined’. Then there’s the bohemian narrative of ‘Última Vez’ with its images of naked cuddling and fingers in hair.
Hélio Oiticica once advised everyone to “Be an outlaw, be a hero”. No matter how conflicted or sullied the world is, there’s a defiance in human desire. Bernardes makes us feel both aroused and reckless through his rhapsodic music. These songs open the golden doors to your dreams.
Mil Coisas Invisíveis is released on CD/vinyl via Psychic Hotline on October 28th.
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