Monday, June 2, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #106 - Arto Lindsay – Salt

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s, Arto Lindsay seemed poised to make some kind of breakthrough that never quite happened, taking a lengthy hiatus from recording (under his own name) after his great 2004 album Salt. While his eccentric synthesis of traditional Brazilian music, noisy downtown New York art rock, and experimental electronic music wasn’t likely to hit the charts Nirvana-style, he was at least operating in a post-Nirvana world where labels were willing to bankroll these kinds of experiments. And in that environment he delivered six good-to-great albums in a row starting with the uncharacteristically mellow O Corpo Sutil (The Subtle Body) through the (sadly out of print) masterpiece Mundo Civilizado and on through a series of albums for Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label (he was the first artist other than Ani to record for the label), ending with this one, among his best releases ever.
But let’s back up a bit. Back in the late 1970’s, after CBGB’s had already been established as the nexus of the New York’s punk scene – or at least its slightly artier and more diverse wing – along came something called “No Wave,” a noisy reaction to the New Wave music of the day slicking up the punk impulse and turning it into something easily commodified. And that’s where the U.S.-born and Brazil-raised Lindsay found his first musical footing with his avant-noise trio DNA. They appeared on the crucial noise-rock document No New York and worked for a while longer before he broke up the group after releasing only one EP and one single under their own name. But at least he had a plan – after DNA staked out their territory (called “horrible noise” and “skronk” by my two favorite music critics) he took a sharp turn, surprising fans by unveiling his new group Ambitious Lovers in 1984. The Lovers featured a heavy Brazilian vibe mixed with the skronk and most surprisingly included a club-ready dance tune called “Let’s Be Adult” and a cover of Dorival Caymmi’s lovely ballad “Dora.” After two more (great) records with the Lovers and several high profile production jobs – for Caetano Veloso, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Marisa Monte among others – he returned to records of his own on the trajectory noted above.
Which brings us back to Salt, the most recent entry in his bossa-electro-skronk catalog. Things kick off with “Habite Em Mim,” setting up an electronic rhythm over which Arto flips back and forth between Portuguese and English, setting the tone for the rest of the album to come. But where other artists often use electronics to highlight their alienation and gun for an affected modernism, Arto strives for the more organic feelings he and his band can muster. In this he’s aided immeasurably by bassist/programmer Melvin Gibbs, who helps fulfill the role on most of these records that keyboardist Peter Scherer did in the Ambitious Lovers – and this is keeping the rhythm at the fore. Arto’s a man of contrasts, so his guitar squalor somehow fits within the gentleness of the Bossa Nova, the electronic beats never feel processed and computerized, they’re always a match for the earthy sensuality of his vocals and lyrics. Every song has subtle or not-so-subtle drums and percussion pushing the song along when Arto decides to go quiet. Even on “De Lama Lâmina,” the artiest cut here, there’s still a propulsive drive thanks to Lindsay and Gibbs’s insistence on making things compellingly danceable. On the super-catchy “Personagem,” Arto lets out what in an alternative universe not dominated by Soundscan could’ve been a chart hit, while on the great “Combustivel” he employs extra percussion and backing vocals to create my favorite piece on the album.
What you bring to the table may help decide how you read this music – a friend 12 years older than me was reminded of the 1970’s Latin jazz lite of Michael Franks while another 20 years younger than me said it brought to mind Thom Yorke’s solo excursions – but there’s no denying that Arto’s a real original. Also out now is a collection of Lindsay’s music entitled Encyclopedia of Arto, a 2 CD set with a batch of his 1996-2004 tunes (selected by Arto himself) on disc 1, and a 2012 live performance featuring just his voice and guitar on disc 2. The first disc gives a great overview of the period that culminated in Salt, while disc 2 shows that he hasn’t lost his penchant for discord – it’s the noisiest thing he’s put his name on since the days of DNA. Both of them are great in their own way, but Salt is a more unified show, bringing the two extremes in together to create something utterly unique.
- Patrick Brown

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