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Relax
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  • For more than two decades, Alexandre Kassin has left an indelible mark on Brazilian popular music. From his involvement in the near-mythical Acabou La Tequila in the mid-'90s to his collaborative membership in +2 with Moreno Veloso and Domenico Lancellotti, to dozens of production, songwriting, and sideman gigs -- including work with Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Bebel Gilberto, and Erasmo Carlos -- he is among the most influential members of Brazil's music fraternity. Relax is only Kassin's second solo album; it follows his debut, Sonhando Devagar, by six years. Where the former celebrated blissed-out dreaminess, Relax revolves around the mundanities, tragedies, and absurdities of waking life.
  • There is much to link Relax with its predecessor musically. Kassin employs several of the same collaborators and utilizes just as many styles here, from disco, funk, and jovem garda, to samba torto (crooked samba), neo-bolero, bossa nova, and pop. Several tunes have seen the light in different versions before. "Estricnina" ("Strychnine Love") was first recorded in 2000 with vocals by Rio de Janeiro's Toni Plato. Here it's driven by a spooky organ, drums, and guitars, Kassin rips at the seam where new bossa meets jovem garda; his bassline and droll singing are backed by a haunted B-3 and skittering breakbeat snares. An instrumental version of "O Anestesista" (a "math bossa") was issued in 2017 on Visitantes Nordestinos by Mitch & Mitch -- Kassin played on and produced it. His take here offers his singing up front delivering darkly humorous lyrics (translated by Arto Lindsay) requesting a medical professional give him nitrous oxide during life's more difficult moments. Closer "Enquanto Desaba o Mundo" was written by Kassin for Zabel, who cut it on her self-titled solo debut in 2015, which was produced and mixed by his +2 bandmates.
  • The title track, penned with Alberto Continentino, is a sideways tribute to production duo of Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti; it borrows the bassline from Hall & Oates' "She's Gone" and adorns its backdrop with a gorgeous Gil Evans-esque horn chart atop a fluid disco beat. Single "Momento de Clareza" is almost pure tropical disco (complete with a chunky Nile Rodgers-inspired guitar line). The breezy "Didgeridoo," co-written with Sean O'Hagan, is a samba whose lyrics are drenched in cannibalism, complete with dead meat being chewed, digested, and evacuated -- it's a metaphor for the end of a relationship. "A Paisagem Morta" references the influence of Frank Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia" by way of Barry White and Marcos Valle; it's one of the more sensual things here. "Sua Sugestao" melds bossa nova and jovem garda rock, while "A Paisagem Morta" is an achingly beautiful tune about the ghosts left behind after a relationship dies; its fragile poetic lyrics are made more resonant with elegant trombones, Lancellotti's slippery snares, cascading pianos, and a mellotron. Despite its sometimes bittersweet (and perverse) lyrics, Relax is pure retro summer fun. Its imagination, execution, and restless carioca grooves make it a necessary addition to any Brazilian music fan's collection. ~ Thom Jurek
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