Brazilian Girls

Talk to La Bomb

(Verve; 2006)

By Craig Eley | 29 September 2006

One of my favorite moments in my short history of interactions with overzealous managers was outside of a Brazilian Girls concert at the Rex Theatre in Pittsburgh, right after their self-titled debut (2005) was released. After the show, this (really drunk) manager tells the people loitering around outside, smoking, and talking to the band to hold onto their ticket stubs, because one day seeing the Brazilian Girls at the Rex will be like seeing the Beatles at Shea. “Everyone will say they were there, but you guys can prove it.” Um, what? The show was half full. And people didn’t even start dancing until the third song. But, and this is a critical but, when it did blow up into a drunk, sweaty, European freak-out, it was perfect. Loitering around afterwards wasn’t an attempt to schmooze with the band or be seen, it was just the necessary decompression between musical bliss and the harsh real world that marks the end of any great show.

This anecdote is, pretty much, who the Brazilian Girls are. They aren’t going to set the world on fire, but they might be your new favorite band if you (a) have heard their records (and plenty of people haven’t); (b) have seen them live while wasted and sweaty; and (c) have a high tolerance for European style, exaggeration, and kitsch. If any one of these elements is missing, it’s surprisingly easy to pass them over as a slightly more interesting novelty act than Nouvelle Vague. But while they may have the style and ease of a mahogany bar in a swanky lounge, they also have the unrestrained rawness and jagged edges as the booth at your favorite dive.

Their self-titled debut was remarkable for the way that Sabina Sciubba’s sultry, heartfelt, and often hilarious lyrics challenged what we expect from a polished electro/house song. “Don’t Stop” (the brilliance of which has no equal on this record) had a remarkable chorus, but the real song was revealed in lines like “when and how did I become my mother? / am I getting on your nerves?” Likewise, “Pussy” was an unabashed attack on masculinity, even as the female protagonist of the song eventually “sells out,” perhaps literally. Of course, one of the reasons things worked was the beats were never exactly as “polished” as they could have been, lending the whole thing a quirky, organic feel.

On Talk to La Bomb, the main elements of the Brazilian Girls debut are still in place, but both vocal and instrumental elements head toward the middle, leaving us with a more polished and ultimately less satisfying listen. The band has certainly expanded the studio nature of their sound, with beats and instrumentation fuller than last year’s. But Sciubba has also “matured,” and the rawness of her lines has been replaced by a tendency to sing in non-English languages. While I appreciate her gifted tongue, it is tough for these moves to not seem AAA-radio orientated.

Lead single “Jique” has a ton of energy, super-pretentious multi-lingual verses, and a chorus that consists only of the word “Jique.” The Jock Jams beat keeps things interesting, and the hypnotic quality of Sciubba’s voice is never really “wrong,” but it fails to click in any lasting, rewarding way. “Last Call,” like almost every track here, is a showcase for the guys who make the music happen, and is a lush and layered number that establishes the exotica and tropicalia influences alongside the more traditional house elements. It is this combination (generally) that comes to define the album’s sound, and, like Kirsty MacCall’s Tropical Brainstorm (2000), is appropriate for the overall tenor of sexy/smooth sassiness.

“All About Us” is an intimate lounge-oriented number, with smoky flute and lyrics about love and all of the capitalist fantasies that surround it (“I want to have a swimming pool”). I would love the bedroom whisper and emotional energy of this song if it had something more to say—instead we are left with the tropes of two becoming one and then buying a house in the country. (Sigh.) A far cry from “Pussy pussy pussy marijuana,” innit?