Chalk up another win for Brazil as a land of musical savants. The six members of Graveola apparently had minimal training in music when they formed this collective as college students in 2004. Originally called Graveola e o Lixo Polifônico (Graveola and the Polyphonic Garbage), they cited their inspirations as “lyricism, debauchery and TV jingles.” Clearly, they didn’t take themselves too seriously. But based on the 10 tracks on this, their third album—I can’t speak for their 2008 and 2013 releases—Graveola today marshals formidable musical dexterity and a flare for melodious and rhythmically complex pop compositions. Furthermore, these compositions and arrangements display deep understanding of, and easy freedom with, a range of Brazilian musical styles from maracatu and bossa nova to tropicalia and MPB, as well as genres from Cape Verde, Argentina and the Caribbean, all stitched together with arranging chops worthy of late-Beatles art pop.
The new album was produced by Chico Neves in the band’s hometown, Belo Horizonte. The musicians describe their songs using terms like “carnival cannibalism,” “shamanic funaná,” “psychedelic maracatu,” “weird salsa,” and “schizo-rock-fake-reggae.” Behind these playful and sometimes brilliant genre mashups there is the band’s gonzo poetry of resistance and social activism, addressing topics from political malfeasance, to forced movements of disempowered communities, to the tyranny of the Internet.
“Índio Maracanã” (shamanic funaná) is a shout-out to native Brazilians who occupied a museum about their history in a vain effort to prevent it from being wiped out to make way for the World Cup. Musically, the song showcases the band’s signature gift for combining complex, even furious, rhythms with soaring and melodious vocals. “Back in Bahia,” a nod to Tropicalia legend Gilberto Gil, goes further, juxtaposing a lopsided 12/8 (Argentine chacarera) with a bossa nova-smooth female vocal that hovers like a silk scarf undulating over jagged rocks. At the crescendo, voices, horns and electric guitars moan together in gloriously grand melancholy.
“Maquinário,” the lead track (psychedelic maracatu) moves seamlessly through rhythmic shifts, breaks and swells as it showcases a gorgeous vocal of José Luis Braga, who sounds rather like a joyful young Caetano Veloso. Another standout is “Aurora,” one of three tracks by percussionist Luiza Brina. Here, sultry male and female voices trade verses over a loping, rumba-like beat called arrocha.
For all the variation in these inspired tracks, they never fail to deliver strong vocal hooks. There’s a lot to dig into on Camaleão Borboleta (Chameleon Butterfly), but the album’s friendly pop flow seduces more than it demands, enticing the listener along on its delightfully unpredictable journey.