Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #13

Clube da Esquina – Clube da Esquina

I’m not the biggest consumer of so-called “world music” (hey, western music journalists – we’re part of the world, too!), so I come to a record like this with a healthy dose of ignorance and not a lot of preconceptions. Other than father and son Kuti, both of whom I loved on first listen and once went through a phase where I pretty much only listened to Femi Kuti for a few weeks after ripping a bunch of his CDs that I picked up from the library, my exposure to music outside North America and Europe has mostly been limited to the appropriations of folks like Paul Simon and David Byrne. I came to this project hoping to fill in such gaps, so seeing a Brazilian band I’d never heard of show up was very exciting.

I guess I did have some preconceptions about what music from Brazil should sound like (think Carnival), which is pure idiocy – if you can find a common thread in the music of, say, Gordon Lightfoot, Our Lady Peace and KAYTRANADA that makes them distinctly Canadian, then you’re much better at this than I am. I don’t know if this meets those prior notions because I realized what I know about Carnival is limited to brief snippets from films. Another gap in my knowledge base exposed.

So what is “Clube da Esquina” then? Well, it’s a pop record mainly, just sung in another language, so it needs to be considered in such a context. I couldn’t find a fully translated lyric sheet, then decided to stop looking and just consider how the music makes me feel. Which turned out to be pretty damned awesome.

There are so many amazing tracks here. First, Milton Nascimento is a great singer: you don’t need a lyric sheet to know that “Dos Cruces” (my favourite track) is a lament for a tragic lost love. Another favourite is “Um Girassol Da Cor Do Seu Cabelo”: sung by Lo Borges, it is Beatlesesque, with an orchestral flourish starting at 2:08 right before the tempo picks up with piano and a race to the finish. (Why has Tarantino not used this yet?) “Cais” starts by burrowing into your heart with fluttery guitars, hits harder with simple piano then, bizarrely, drops into mono, with everything on the right side (I was sure my headphones were dying).

I love the guitar work in “Tudo O Que Voce Podia Ser”, and “Nuvem Cigana” feels like a bouncy early 1960s tune. There’s the deep and bold guitar just after the midpoint of “San Vicente” (another great Nascimento vocal), with church bells at the end, and the lush strings and gentle picking of “Clube Da Esquina No. 2”. “Paisagem Da Janela” feels like a summery pop song to play on a stroll by the beach, though the translated lyrics tell a much darker tale that led to it being censored. “Me Deixa Em Paz” is clearly another tale of forelorn love, with gentle cymbals, and as his female counterpart, Alaide Costa is more than a match for Milton. “Os Povos” has another powerful Nascimento vocal, and “Um Gosto De Sol” calls back to “Cais” at around the midpoint, layering on the strings this time instead of piano. “Nada Sera Como Antes” is so Beach Boys cheery (I love the piano in this) I didn’t dare look at the lyric sheet for fear it would turn out to be about murdering kittens. The fuzzy guitar of “Trem De Doido” is an oddity, and feels a bit out of place, but this is as close as they come to a misstep over 21 tracks. I can’t say enough about how much I love this record. It almost makes me want to learn Portuguese so I can sing along. Though it’s probably best I just leave that to Nascimento.

Oh, and since I’m talking about music from other countries, do check out Fela Kuti and Femi Kuti. Truly magnificent. And for something fun, the Japanese girl group CHAI subverts J-pop stereotypes with a glossy rock edge. The world is full of exciting things to explore.

(Originally posted on Facebook, July 27, 2021)