In Brazil you can’t swing a pandeiro without hitting a Bossa Nova singer. It’s been 60 years and still the tradition of Vinicius, Jobim and Gilberto lives on in most young throats seeking a recording studio. But Da Cruz, a Swiss-based group revolving around Brazilian singer Mariana da Cruz, stands against what they call the “comfy Bossa Nova” — you know the type, those innocuous lounge tunes that coffee shops have come to appropriate over the years. In “Sistema Subversiva,” the group’s latest effort, pleasant samba beats and Portuguese lyrics are indeed present, but they get tossed and turned at the hand of producer Ane H. from the Swiss industrial-electro pioneers Swamp Terrorists.
Although less of a presence than in former works by Da Cruz, Brazil is the central element in the record’s lyrics and makes a rhythmic appearance in almost every track. Without reserve, Ane H. mixes an array of electronic sounds, break beats, jazz, dancehall, Portuguese Kuduro, and Ethiopian grooves. Pit Lee, Swamp Terrorists’s former drummer, and guitarist Oliver Husmann complete the group’s sound. They tie together instruments and electronic beats so well in their explorations that sometimes they leave you wishing Mariana’s vocals were equally adventurous. Despite her professed rebellion, Mariana, once a Bossa Nova singer herself, retains many old habits, including an often slowpaced singing style. In “Janguada,” for example, the electro and funky beats order your feet to dance, while her sensual vocals tone it down. (You end up shaking your shoulders while sitting in the chair.) Nor is it the only song confused about whether it’s dance floor material or not.
Surprisingly, “Ethiopia,” an update to the Afro-beat of Fela Kuti, is one of the songs best suited to Mariana, who’s so at ease in this setting that she lets go and stops sounding like the Brazilian singers she can’t tell apart. It happens again in “Tudo Bem,” where Ane H. wraps her voice in some interesting effects. But Mariana is at her most provocative in “Boom Boom Boom,” the electrifying opener that combines kuduro and dance music hitting you like an adrenaline shot.
Other highlights of “Sistema Subversiva” include “Sexta-feira,” an ode to Friday-night parties with traditional samba percussion that manages to be both radio-friendly and psychedelic at the same time, and “Papo De,” which also starts familiarly, carried by straighforward acoustic guitar strumming, but develops into a rich, soft reggae. “Zero a Zero” could be the perfect soundtrack for a soccer match, complete with a funky guitar line worthy of Jorge Ben Jor, plus congas and saxophone.
“Sistema Subversiva” will delight the curious types instead of the typical Brazilian music fan. If you’re listening at home, a warning: the insistent heavy beats can be harsh on your ears after a while (I’m talking about 70 minutes of uninterrupted drumming and bass). Make sure your stereo and your eardrums are in good shape, because this is anything but comfy music.