Lenine: Labiata

Lenine: LabiataYou could call Lenine a late bloomer; although his first album (with Lula Queiroga) dropped in 1983, when he was 24, there was a break of nearly ten years before his collaboration with Marcos Suzano, Olho de Peixe, would appear; another five before his first proper “solo” album, O Dia em que Faremos Contato. At 38, in other words, he finally hit his stride. And now, some years on–he’s celebrating his fiftieth birthday somewhere as I write this–he shows no signs of slowing down.

Lenine’s sound is instantaneously identifiable. There’s the comfortably worn voice, a guitar style that sounds like Michael Hedges channelling João Gilberto, and a sense of rhythm and texture that’s as forward-looking as anything Chico Science managed. On one hand, the sound is so identifiable that even someone covering Lenine ends up sounding more than a bit like him (like Daude’s take on “Hoje Eu Quiero Sair So,” from her debut album); but then, even songs he’s written for other artists–try just a chorus from Fernanda Abreu’s “Urbano Canibal”–bear his stamp. As if that weren’t enough, even his takes on others’ music end up sounding as though he wrote them, as was the case with the excellent “O Atirador,” from his 2005 acoustic release. On his latest disc, Labiata, he sounds like none other.

There’s a restlessness to the music, both in its sound and in its evolution. While the basic elements I mentioned earlier remain consistent, the way they’re deployed has changed radically from one album to the next: pronounced electronic textures on Na Pressão, atmospheric funk on Falange Canibal, brass flourishes on Acustico MTV. While each disc has built, in some sense, on its predecessors, Labiata is the first time you really get the feeling that it all comes together; the artist has thrown everything at the wall, and somehow it all manages to stick (we’ll leave the cleanup to someone else later).

Lenine’s music seems, sometimes, to be built entirely on rhythm. The disc’s opening track, “Martelo Bigorna,” is a great case in point, augmenting Lenine’s usual staccato guitar attack with a string arrangement that starts off sounding more or less conventional, but that turns to a flickering, guttering thing that throws strange shapes around the rest of the music and lyrics. The artist then drops some science on “Samba e Leveza,” having the good sense not to out-Science the late Chico Science; the music sounds nothing like Nação Zumbí, and works because of, not in spite of, that fact. “A Mancha” and “O Céu É Muito” flirt with power chords and a more conventional rock sound, saved by the unconventional touches and textures that crop up here as elsewhere on the album, while “É Fogo” sounds a bit like the Ohio Players by way of Salvador do Bahia. And the ballads, when they come, have dark undercurrents that make for Eno-esque uneasy listening.

Much of what I do I don’t plan
I just throw myself, no strings attached.
I follow my own rhythm…
–Lenine, “Martelo Bigorna”

In 1985 or so, Salman Rushdie wrote an essay on Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, in which (I’m summarizing the hell out of it here) he basically says that Gilliam’s Brazil is a Brazil of the imagination. It may or may not be located in Brazil, it’s almost certainly an amalgam of things, people, and places, a meta-Brazil, if you will. Lenine’s music, even though it’s firmly rooted in Brazil (Pernambuco or thereabouts), isn’t just Brazilian. It’s an amalgamation, a casual cannibalism, with its roots stretching back beyond Tom Zé, beyond Tropicalia, beyond Carmen Miranda. Lenine’s music is the product of the Brazil you’ll find in the atlas, but also of that other, more ephemeral, imaginary Brazil.

Lenine on the web
Labiata EPK (Electronic Press Kit), with English subtitles.

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