It is always refreshing to witness a well-respected artist of an older generation maintain relevancy. Too often, we are presented with a barrage of reissues and throwbacks to former glory, the audience forced to rely on the memory of greatness, wading through newer material for the hits. The artist becomes a museum piece; a caricature of a former self. With the upcoming release of Abraçaço on Nonesuch Records, Caetano Veloso makes the statement that he is still here.
An architect of Tropicália, a radical arts movement in 1960s Brazil, Caetano has managed to remain artistically vital ever since. His body of work (over 50 albums and counting) has helped to shape the state of Brazilian popular music, while also standing as one of the crowning jewels of a culture with more than its fair share of them. Veloso has released two other albums in the past decade using the same group of younger musicians: Cê in 2007 and zie e zee in 2009. Each managed to maintain his singular voice and style while incorporating elements of contemporary rock and pop. This latest incarnation features more of a rock edge, leaning heavily on distorted guitar and heavy drums while also effortlessly referencing traditional rhythms and styles, a powerful trick that Caetano has made a calling card throughout his career.
Throughout Abraçaço, we are presented with the contrasts between contemporary and traditional pop. The first single “Bossa Nova e Foda” sounds like a marriage between late ’60s Rio and a ’90s Drag City release. Brash guitars and big drum mix with sweet keyboards and rapid-fire lyrics. The slow samba found in “O Império da Lei” is both nimble and loping, yet surprisingly played on chugging electric guitars and featuring a guitar solo custom built for American indie rock. “Estou Triste” is a slow burner, chock full of power pop sensibility. Veloso’s haunting falsetto rides atop palm-muted guitar strums on a steady build to fuzzed-out oblivion. And “Funk Melodico” begins with the beat-box rhythm made familiar by baile funk, a style we all know and love in this office. Yet the track is hardly a simple funk melody. Rather, it conveys a sense of brooding and unrest, conjured by way of distorted keyboard and effects-laden guitar. In fact, much of the album shares a similar darkness; gone is the lightness so often found in Brazilian pop.
All and all, we are pleased to say that Caetano Veloso clearly has his talents fully intact, creating new and interesting music well into his 70s. Though he is collaborating with musicians half his age, it is Veloso that comes across in each song, and his voice and musical sense remain strong throughout the record. Abraçaço is a fitting end to a trio of albums that showcase the state of contemporary Brazilian popular music, ably mixing classic, future and retro. And why not? It is 2014 after all.