Lucas Santtana - Sem Nostalgia
Brazilian music is more than the ghost of tropicalia. Relying as much on the music of carnival scenes as the beauty of acoustic guitar and voice, the country’s music is a rich tapestry of emotion and sound culled from minimal sonic sources. From Caetano Veloso to João Gilberto, six strings and a working larynx have been proven to be the most needed in a good percentage of cases. Yes, the fuller works of added horns and strings can blow away lesser albums but at the heart of it all, the desire to create will outweigh the possible shortcoming of not having a trumpet. Lucas Santtana has become a new force in the tradition’s scene, forging through three previous albums all hinged on a single idea. Before his latest, Sem Nostalgia concerned itself with the solo voice and guitar archetype, his excursions through dub and funk were recontexturalizations and experimentations within the style while rooting itself in a style indicative of modern electronic. Sem Nostalgia now turns the concept of one guitar on its ear by having every sound that isn’t obviously a vocal derived from an acoustic guitar. But can conceptual know-how be a replacement for lack of structure?
Simply put, this is an album built around pedals and manipulation. Rarely does a song exist for more than five seconds here without displaying heavy modification of some instrument. From the first minute of opener ‘Super Violão Mashup,’ Nostalgia maintains an air of meticulous computer arranging. Drum sounds unfold after repeated listens, revealing the texture of acoustic body slaps and string jangles in place of shakers and hi-hats. And if the hiccupping portamento’d guitar line doesn’t turn you off, then prepare for a schizoid trip through the vox e violão genre. ‘Who Can Say Which Way’ is an effective composition but suffers from tepid political sentiments and awkward phrases like, ‘Food fighting starts/Get out of hand…Freak of machine,’ which ultimately mean about as much as the typical Black Eyed Peas “commentary track.” When Santtana ditches the need for overt reference, the true skill of his craftsmanship comes to the fore, as witnessed in delicate ambience and hushed delivery of ‘Night Time in the Backyard’ and ‘Natureza #1 em Mi Maior,’ tracks which recall the simple works of Wyrd Visions and even ‘Sleeping On The Roof.’ When the concept overtakes the music, a problem arises. Not so much an issue of listenable music as one of underwhelming to boring experimentation for experimentation’s sake. ‘Recardo pro Pio Lobato’ goes nowhere and overemphasizes a harmonizer and delay too often, resulting in a grating texture that sounds half-accidental. Next to the Mount Eerie-ish softness of ‘Hold Me In’ (which sounds remarkably similar, chord-wise, to ‘It Wasn’t The Hunting’) and the ring modulated, dub-inspired Bossa Nova of ‘Amor em Jacumã’ the misses are glaring errors of judgment that imply conceptual continuity for conceptualization’s sake, an ethos that only pans out when the guitar retains its natural timbre as in ‘I Can’t Live Far from My Music’ or ‘Cá pra nó,’ a song that interpolates moments of sustained Jonny Greenwood-esque drones to great effect as a foil to the soothing strums that come to dominate.
As amusing as amassed rapid-fire edits can be, and as damn good as glitch can be, Santtana is best suited to the genre traditions imbued with his sense of experimental technique. When he lets completely manipulated tracks breathe, their presence stifles the otherwise successful combination of effected guitars and simple but classic Brazilian melodic senses. More evocative of a passing period than a steadfast adherence to this sense of sound play, Sem Nostalgia is about the push-pull relationship between genuine skill and the passing vagaries of spur-of-the-moment interest. When suited to forward-thinking voice and guitar, Nostalgia is a pining and touching look at the music of a nation through the years of political turmoil and artistic stifling. When geared to its navel-gazing computer music, Nostalgia becomes an unholy union that ought be doused in holy water.
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