Malva1 (2017) — Löis Lancaster
The carioca2 Löis Lancaster is one of the most prominent Brazilian microtonalist composers nowadays. And it’s no wonder; it’s important to emphasize the international recognizement which was gotten last year due to his “Sinfonia do Ocidente” (“Western Symphony”), rewarded with the first place of xenharmonic (or microtonal) composition by the website UnTwelve.Org. But his past doesn’t deny, because his career, since mid-1990s, always was ruled by an interest on the most progressive sounds marred to an acerbic humor and pop imagination out of the conventionalities, deliberately underground — or better, “udigrudi”3. Not by chance, be was the bass player and Singer of one of the most singular and creative bands in all of the Brazilian rock: Zumbi do Mato4, which combined sounds progressive/experimental as well as jazzy, or even punk or funk with hilarious lyrics as much as morbid, sarcastic and critical, with science-fiction and an electronic- experimental surrealism worthy of Residents. And a detail: betting on the line-up of keyboards, bass and drums. No guitars, ladies and gentlemen!
However, Lancaster’s adventure here in Brazil has special aesthetic support by the fact that we can perceive a natural continuity line of progressive musical language with the twelve-tone songs and a narrative cranny for the comic books thanks to Arrigo Barnabé. If his old band had already flirted with the twelve-tone post-tonalism without sounding overtly “brainy”, Lancaster, solo and loose, has found a step forward in the Bohlen-Pierce tuning system — which doesn’t have octaves and only uses odd harmonics, moving further out the 12 tones of equal-tempered tuning system that was consecrated by Western music. But the Lancaster’s microtonal aesthetics is only alien to those who don’t have trained ears to the most experimental sounds — or, simply put, hollow and limited. Or better put, He seeks to resignify not exactly that so-worn-out MPB5, but the tradition itself of the Brazilian urban song by giving it a necessary injection of contemporaneity and intelligence. For as much experimental as he is, Lancaster is “carioca from the gem6”. And, also, universal. After all, we can hear in his music the influence of Frank Zappa, King Crimson, krautrock, post-rock and also Noel Rosa, Fernando Pellon (the sambista who managed to create the incredible album Cadáver Pega Fogo durante Velório) and Tom Zé (Whoops! A tropicalist from Bahia and São Paulo…?). And extramusical influences too: besides cinema and comic books, there are literary echoes from Stanislaw Ponte Preta’s chronicles and the marginal reported-tales by João Antônio. A sound that, above all, passes off the bucolic bossa-nova and, also, the usual commercial structure of popular music.
For all those reasons, Malva is a work that represents a culmination of maturity and sophistication of its author. It doesn’t mean that the aesthetic predilection for terror or science-fiction was abandoned. Lancaster makes with this album not only a contrapuntal tribute to gothic and synthpop sounds of the 1980’s, but also to the triptychs of Francis Bacon and to the movie “The Birds” by Alfred Hitchcock. Like Arrigo Barnabé, Lancaster has a special taste for the female voice, despite the fact that he sings too, taking the lead voice in the incredible opening of “Aflição”. This vocal and instrumental album sounds predominantly piano-made, electronic, synth- guided, but much rhythmic — it’s to dance for to think. “Ornitofrenia” (which means “spirit of bird”), the chosen track as a single and a partnership with Felipe Zenicola — who manipulated the electronics in the central section of the compositional structure of the instrumental triptych — represents and summarizes the creative symbiosis of Lancaster when incorporating irregular meters and structural replenishment to a timbral electronic taste evidently influenced by the already mentioned 1980’s sound. After all, as the author himself says, “If the album spoke, I’d say that ‘the 80’s are the real preview of the 10’s, and that ‘the gothic-rock is just starting’.” Pure futurism paradoxically anachronistic and, in Lancaster, microtonalism (or xenharmonics) IS the future in the contemporaneity.
However, Malva isn’t an album of just plain aesthetic experimentalism. There are surprises and narrative or musical irreverence in its universe which require not only just a simple listening. It’s a vibrant work, vital and really instigating. Maybe, if the sound had gustative or olfactory properties to what the listening adventure of this album represents… it’d have a taste or smell of mauve. And why not? Transcend the sensations, open your ears and you won’t regret, dear listener.
George Cristian Vilela Pereira
April 4th, 2017
Translated by the writer in April 9th, 2017
1 “Mauve” in Portuguese.
2 A person who was born in the district of Rio de Janeiro.
3 A Brazilian way to pronounce the English word “underground”; firstly and possibly created by the movie director Glauber Rocha, in a way to detract or pun over the Brazilian marginal (or underground) cinema from the late 1960’s, start of the 1970’s.
4 Zombie from the Bush, in Portuguese.
5 Brazilian Popular Music, or “Música Popular Brasileira” in English.
6 “Carioca da gema”, a popular Brazilian slang.