Babe, Terror


(Perdizes Dream; 2009)

By David Abravanel | 1 April 2009

Some ideas are so simple it’s easy to slap yourself for not thinking of them. After being introduced to the Million Dollar Homepage, I could only imagine what most struggling web-designers and bloggers thought of seeing something so blindingly obvious make a quick buck. Jealousy and fascination, probably.

A similar reaction is in order for every unknown electro-acoustic musician huddled over a laptop, immersed in endless layers of VSTs, upon hearing Weekend, the debut full-length from Babe, Terror. A project of the São Paolo-based Claudio Szynkier, the album consists primarily of vocalizations processed through basic and obvious effects. It’s alternately mesmerizing and dizzying: as could be expected from a release consisting entirely of vocals, heavy reverb gives things a demented Brian Wilson vibe. Szynkier eschews smoother edits, so much of the vocals are filtered through drastic, low-frequency tremolo, while clips of new voices are introduced and eliminated abruptly. Szynkier further breaks the conventionally accepted rules of audio by allowing for gratuitous digital distortion; without knowing whether this is intentional, it’s still a remarkably effective way to grab the listener on a piece like “A Capital Federal.”

There are loose melodic structures to Weekend, but the timbral qualities of the human voice play an equally important role. There’s formant variance—heavy on hums, the album nonetheless features patches of moans, shouts, sighs and even snippets of lyrics. The atonal features of the voice are elevated, as sibilants and fricatives, often processed through long delays. It’s also worth noting that the voices on Weekend are rarely processed to the extent that they no longer sound like voices. Szynkier is not out to trick the ear or to show off his prowess with a sampler and digital editing; he’s exploring the undeniable, primal energy that flows from humanity’s oldest instrument. Perhaps due to the constant exposure to primarily rock-like Western vocals, Babe, Terror is a startling kick in the pants to many preconceived notions about the how vocals should (or can) sound. Often, the wordless singing appears to tell a story: listening to “Epicentro,” I feel the need to strain myself, as though there’s a conversation going on close by and I’m too half-asleep or drugged to hear it. This gut reaction is a tribute to Szynkier’s knack for wresting the maximum emotional clout from his minimally produced vocalizations.

A natural degree of skepticism is appropriate for Weekend; we’re dealing with some real potential gimmick material. Luckily, Szynkier’s sincerity and dedication to his craft come across loud and clear. What becomes a thorn, however, is that there are passages where it’s not so clear that Szynkier knows where he’s going. “Havaí” leaps from a gorgeous start into uncertain, dissonant territory. While this kind of aimless inharmonic excursion is likely compositionally intentional, the effect, in the midst of such sound structures as “Weecandy” or “Summertime Our League,” is that it sounds lost and a bit tired.

It’s difficult to figure out who Weekend will appeal to. Stylistically, the heavy reverb and light tropical influence put it in line with the likes of Panda Bear and El Guincho, but it’s far from nu-Exotica. Eschewing lyrics and verse-chorus structure, not to mention instruments, Szynkier is going for something more abstract. Weekend owes much of its charm to technology, but crude and obvious technology, applied in drastic ways that swim against the flow of increasingly subtle possibilities of digital sound editing. All conceptual and technological discussions aside, however, Weekend is a lovingly inviting and intimate work of a fantastic new talent. Szynkier applies simple production to a simple idea, but the results are sublime in a way that few other electro-acoustic music makers have achieved.