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Published: 2006/05/14
by Jesse Jarnow

Estudando O Pagode – Tom Z

Luaka Bop

They tell me that Tom Z39;s music is "sung journalism." "They," in this case, includes pretty much every article ever published about the veteran Brazilian experimentalist, not to mention the black-and-yellow striped Cliff's Notes that Luaka Bop sent along with Estudando O Pagode, Z "unfinished operetta" about, uh, women’s rights or feminism or chauvinism or sex or something. I dunno. The pamphlet isn’t nearly as fun as the album itself, and my Portuguese being non-existent (and my plans to learn it via Brazilian psychedelic LPs proving fruitless), I have no idea what the dude is singing about. Don’t have much interest either.

Somehow, I think Zould be unfazed by that. As since the '60s, his music is an appealing collage of genetically intricate Brazilian rhythms, homemade instruments, rich guitars, and inventive arrangements. "Pagode-Enredo Dos Tempos Do Medo" — the concluding song of Act I — is announced by a twisted squeal (horns? voices?) that gives way to guitars that ricochet off one another like stereo-panned bleeps, a multi-layered vocal part (including some chipmunky high squeaks) and more squealing. It's got a good beat and you can dance to it, too.

This is true throughout, the rhythms an ever-present grid beneath ZEvery song harbors surprises, like the vintage tropicalia horn and vocal breakdown of "Can De Nora (Casa De Donecas)" and the skittering guitar doubling Z39;s vocal on "Proposta de Amor" (as well as the bass that shadows the guitar, and the female chorus that bounces off Z

Of course, this could all be old hat in Brazil, or at least the work of an irrelevant codger, but it plays (mostly) pretty freshly through American headphones. Played out loud, the disc's production doesn't entirely make it, though, perhaps needing a few more organic instrumental voices to go along with the heavily processed drums (though the orgasming woman on "Vibra Da Carne" probably qualifies). Still, there many places on Estudando O Pagode where one would be served just fine by closing his eyes and pretending he’s listening to a dummy vocal mock-up Beck’s 2017 comeback album. Foreign tongue aside, many of Z structural games are available to anyone willing to listen.

Sung journalism? Sure, but without speaking the language, one is allowed to write his own news, and the news is good and weird.

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