Adam Torres: Pearls to Swine

There’s a degree of would-be myth to Adam Torres’ backstory. He first gained some local notoriety as an undergraduate in Athens, Ohio in the middle of the ’00s, performing solo shows and playing guitar for indie-folk outfit Southeast Engine, heroes of that Ohio scene. In 2006, he self-released his first solo album at the age of 20, Nostra Nova, an album that developed a cult-classic status in the decade since, and a slightly greater visibility upon its reissue via Misra Records last year. While whispers slowly spread of this songwriter you’d never heard of, Torres himself was mostly absent in those ensuing ten years before returning with Pearls to Swine, his first full-fledged release since Nostra Nova.

All those years removed from Nostra Nova it sounds like he returned as a ghost. Torres spent some time volunteering in Ecuador before resettling to Austin, TX to earn his graduate degree and work to help improve the water quality of the Rio Grande, all while releasing a spate of lo-fi demos he recorded in his closet. On Pearls to Swine, his songs are earnest and full of yearning, yet still difficult to divine the concrete relatability that lives within. It transcends his humble Ohio roots, a work of startling beauty that sits in your head like a half-remembered dream: you keep returning to it, trying to approach it from different angles and catch the secrets you’re missing before they slip away into the haze.

Torres’ voice is without a doubt the thing he’s known for and will be remembered by. It has an unearthly quality. Throughout Pearls To Swine, he sings in a ruminative falsetto that is able to bend in directions that defy the shape and scope of the human form. In the album’s stunning opener, “Juniper Arms,” he begins in near-wordlessness, a place he coasts in and out of before occasionally dropping back down to earth for a bit of clarity. The song is about Albuquerque, where Torres was born, as well as Austin, where he lives, but the words “Juniper arms” are the only ones in focus during the chorus. It’s like Torres tries to wrap his arms around the idea of home while drifting around it just out of reach.

There are more traditional moments like “High Lonesome” and “Morning Rain,” moments where Torres remains front-and-center over finger-picked guitar parts, where you could hear him as a compromise between Neil Young’s ’70s broken-angel croon and Jeff Buckley’s celestial melodies. Then there are the counterpoints where he lets himself go to those otherworldly places, like when his voice and the strings meld into one unsettling current in “Daydream.” He has a way of crafting songs that lure you out with their beauty before revealing its underlying rage.

Though Torres’ gorgeous and idiosyncratic voice is a major selling point of Pearls to Swine, it’s bolstered by his meditations on the tangible experience, much of it derived from the life Torres lived between records. Just as the experiences that birthed Nostra Nova were inextricably rooted in small college-town circuits and in the music community in Athens, the new record feels at one with the Texas landscape. There’s a sweeping whine in the string drone of “Outlands,” like wind coursing across the Chihuahuan Desert. It feels like a return journey after traversing the desolation and spending the bulk of a decade removed from his calling.  

That gives the penultimate track, “Mountain River,” a climactic tone with Torres singing “I’m trying to find my way back home” all before the epilogue of “City Limits.” A tension permeates these songs: Torres sounds road-weary, but also like he’s trying to grasp the wonder that’s still out there in America. It’s a tension that many artists working in some strain of contemporary Americana touch on, like those cosmic Americana troubadours Ryley Walker, Steve Gunn, and William TylerIt won’t reproduce the same kind of direct, intimate engagement the once-unknown Nostra Nova did. But Torres has traded away some pieces of the humanity that colored his earlier work in favor of a conversation about something elemental that’s still waiting to be discovered. That doesn’t make for an immediate record. It makes for one full of enigmas, of beautiful and undefinable things that promise further revelations to come.

Adam Torres: Pearls to Swine

There’s a degree of would-be myth to Adam Torres’ backstory. He first gained some local notoriety as an undergraduate in Athens, Ohio in the middle of the ’00s, performing solo shows and playing guitar for indie-folk outfit Southeast Engine, heroes of that Ohio scene. In 2006, he self-released his first solo album at the age of 20, Nostra Nova, an album that developed a cult-classic status in the decade since, and a slightly greater visibility upon its reissue via Misra Records last year. While whispers slowly spread of this songwriter you’d never heard of, Torres himself was mostly absent in those ensuing ten years before returning with Pearls to Swine, his first full-fledged release since Nostra Nova.

All those years removed from Nostra Nova it sounds like he returned as a ghost. Torres spent some time volunteering in Ecuador before resettling to Austin, TX to earn his graduate degree and work to help improve the water quality of the Rio Grande, all while releasing a spate of lo-fi demos he recorded in his closet. On Pearls to Swine, his songs are earnest and full of yearning, yet still difficult to divine the concrete relatability that lives within. It transcends his humble Ohio roots, a work of startling beauty that sits in your head like a half-remembered dream: you keep returning to it, trying to approach it from different angles and catch the secrets you’re missing before they slip away into the haze.

Torres’ voice is without a doubt the thing he’s known for and will be remembered by. It has an unearthly quality. Throughout Pearls To Swine, he sings in a ruminative falsetto that is able to bend in directions that defy the shape and scope of the human form. In the album’s stunning opener, “Juniper Arms,” he begins in near-wordlessness, a place he coasts in and out of before occasionally dropping back down to earth for a bit of clarity. The song is about Albuquerque, where Torres was born, as well as Austin, where he lives, but the words “Juniper arms” are the only ones in focus during the chorus. It’s like Torres tries to wrap his arms around the idea of home while drifting around it just out of reach.

There are more traditional moments like “High Lonesome” and “Morning Rain,” moments where Torres remains front-and-center over finger-picked guitar parts, where you could hear him as a compromise between Neil Young’s ’70s broken-angel croon and Jeff Buckley’s celestial melodies. Then there are the counterpoints where he lets himself go to those otherworldly places, like when his voice and the strings meld into one unsettling current in “Daydream.” He has a way of crafting songs that lure you out with their beauty before revealing its underlying rage.

Though Torres’ gorgeous and idiosyncratic voice is a major selling point of Pearls to Swine, it’s bolstered by his meditations on the tangible experience, much of it derived from the life Torres lived between records. Just as the experiences that birthed Nostra Nova were inextricably rooted in small college-town circuits and in the music community in Athens, the new record feels at one with the Texas landscape. There’s a sweeping whine in the string drone of “Outlands,” like wind coursing across the Chihuahuan Desert. It feels like a return journey after traversing the desolation and spending the bulk of a decade removed from his calling.  

That gives the penultimate track, “Mountain River,” a climactic tone with Torres singing “I’m trying to find my way back home” all before the epilogue of “City Limits.” A tension permeates these songs: Torres sounds road-weary, but also like he’s trying to grasp the wonder that’s still out there in America. It’s a tension that many artists working in some strain of contemporary Americana touch on, like those cosmic Americana troubadours Ryley Walker, Steve Gunn, and William TylerIt won’t reproduce the same kind of direct, intimate engagement the once-unknown Nostra Nova did. But Torres has traded away some pieces of the humanity that colored his earlier work in favor of a conversation about something elemental that’s still waiting to be discovered. That doesn’t make for an immediate record. It makes for one full of enigmas, of beautiful and undefinable things that promise further revelations to come.

Steve Buscemi / Elliott Sharp: Rub Out the Word

Despite his unassailable stature as a literary giant, modernist trailblazer, and fringe icon, we continue to sell William Burroughs short by the way we remember him. The late author is celebrated for his unparalleled ability to disfigure the language, both via his “cut-up” approach to non-linear narrative flow and also for the unrelenting hideousness of his subject matter. But let’s imagine, by comparison, that Jackson Pollock or John Coltrane had gone down in history solely for the audacious splatter of their technique, rather than the innate grace they brought to those techniques.

In Burroughs’ case, even though he structured several of his key works so that readers can start on any page and work through the text in any order, we shouldn’t ignore his gift for putting words together in the first place. If it weren’t for their underlying lyricism, Burroughs’ harrowing portraits of heroin use and pederasty wouldn’t have the arresting impact that they continue to have more than half a century later. And yet, after all that time, even highly creative artists like composer/instrumentalist Elliott Sharp and actor Steve Buscemi miss the mark. Both of them should know better. 

A live performance that took place as part of a month-long celebration of Burroughs’ birthday centennial in 2014, Rub Out the Word will likely satisfy the author’s most avid cheerleaders, but anyone looking for a fresh take should look elsewhere (such as Burroughs’ spoken-word collaborations with the bands Material, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and his 1990 album of readings with various artists, Dead City Radio). It’s not that Buscemi and Sharp don’t mean well, or that they don’t bring a great deal of attention to their respective crafts here. They also deserve credit for not fetishizing Burroughs’ most reprehensible qualities (i.e: his unapologetic fascination with guns even after recklessly killing his second wife with one, and his celebrity among junkies as “the pope of dope”). And yet the pair apparently couldn’t resist looking at their subject through a superficial lens.

Rub Out the Word zigzags between the author’s prose and his musings on the art of writing itself. On paper, it would seem as if Sharp chose wisely from the vast body of text that Burroughs left behind, especially where Buscemi recites passages that tease at offering insight into the author’s process. It is in this area that Rub Out the Word fails the most to deliver on its potential. Unfortunately, Buscemi and Sharp fall into the trap of being seduced by the cut-up technique as the defining aspect of Burroughs’ legacy. They even unwittingly ring the death knell for this album right off the bat, when Buscemi reads, “What better way to invoke a writer than to cut and re-arrange his very own words? Like all keys to be used with caution, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” Too true, as this album would’ve benefitted hugely from a mix of random and structured flow. Sharp, presumably taken by his attraction to chaos theory, copy/pasted Burroughs’ texts and ran them through an online word scrambler, an unnecessary step akin to filtering an innovative guitarist’s parts through the same effects pedal twice.

Burroughs was capable of keeping readers spellbound through the jagged shifts in his train of thought, but it’s obvious within this album’s first few minutes that the cut-up technique doesn’t have the same verve in spoken form that it does on paper—at least not the way it’s delivered here. As an extended oral work, Rub Out the Word simply lacks coherence. And though Sharp’s eerie background drones complement the more nightmarish passages, what begins as a compelling exercise in texture ultimately falls flat from a lack of sonic variety or buildup. Which leaves the spotlight on Buscemi’s stylized voice, an egregious affectation that the material just didn’t need. 

Buscemi actually breathes life into the final track “Taking the Virus” by reading in a rapid-fire, low-pitched whisper that conjures images of an auctioneer making a hushed speech at a funeral. The difference between the vocal technique on this piece and the previous ones is startling. It also shows how much Burroughs’ writing breathes when subjected to new interpretations. Buscemi treats “Taking the Virus” like a script where he has room to invent the narrator’s character, which works wonders. And when Buscemi slows down, he does so with the agility of a seasoned musician. The shift in pacing is revelatory and also creates room for Sharp’s accompaniment to shine through. It’s the one moment where Rub Out the Word has dynamics and dimension. By that point, though, it’s far too late.

Alpha 606: Afro-Cuban Electronics

The style known as electro has no single origin, but its lineage can be traced back to a few fairly clear antecedents. Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force’s 1982 single “Planet Rock” canonized the syncopated rhythmic cadence, played on the Roland TR-808 drum machine, that is central to the style; that song was partly inspired by the lurching, snapping beat of Kraftwerk’s “Numbers,” from 1981. The Germans had probably been listening to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto, who deployed the same whip-crack syncopations on 1980’s “Riot in Lagos.” But beating them all to the punch was a Miami group called Herman Kelly & Life, who laid down that signature beat in 1978, in a rousing Latin funk song called “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat” that would go on to be a major influence on Miami bass, a regional variant of electro.

Electro’s Latin roots have often been overlooked, but they’re at the center of Afro-Cuban Electronics, the debut album from Miami’s Alpha 606, which fuses the booming and hissing 808s of classic electro with congas, clave, guiro, and other Afro-Cuban percussion instruments. The project dates back to the early 2000s. Originally, it was a group comprising producers Armando Martinez and Rey Rubio and percussionists Marino Hernandez and Danny Chirino, all of Cuban descent (Hernandez, in fact, arrived on Floridian shores in 1980’s Mariel boatlift). They put out their debut EP in 2005, with a remix from fellow Miami electro experimentalists Phoenecia. By 2008, when Detroit’s Interdimensional Transmissions label released the Electrónica Afro-Cubano EP, only Martinez remained, and he continues solo on Afro-Cuban Electronics.

The sound of the music will be familiar to anyone who has heard Hashim’s “Al Naafiysh (The Soul),” Newcleus’ “Jam on It,” or any other classic in the electro pantheon; one of electro’s salient features it that it simply doesn’t change very much. It all comes down to syncopated 808 patterns, skeletal synth bass, and not much more, and Martinez remains faithful to the blueprint. Even without the Afro-Cuban addition, electro enthusiasts would find plenty to love here: His rhythms move with the easy grace of a jungle cat flicking its tail; his drums are as crisp as you could ask for, and his synthesizers shimmer with a vivid, sci-fi sheen.

But the added percussion greatly adds to the music’s dynamism, filling in the empty space with rolling rhythmic counterpoints. On “Shake,” the two opposing rhythmic figures—guiro and clave patterns against snapping kicks and claps—bob like double needles on a sewing machine, zipping in and out of each other’s way. The Latin percussion also does wonders for the music’s tone colors, lending a warm, glassy glow to the Roland’s dry thump and scratch. Often, Martinez leaves his percussion elements relatively unadulterated, but occasionally, as on “Endangered Cuban Crocodile,” he leans hard on the effects, running the congas through heavy compression and reverb; the results sound a little like if Warp’s Artificial Intelligence compilations had an explicit Latin underpinning.

Martinez does his best to keep things varied; tempos range from a skulking, 110-BPM four-to-the-floor up to 170-BPM rollers. Still, at 13 tracks and nearly an hour (plus a different bonus cut on both the vinyl and digital editions), the album feels a little long. For the most part, these are drum workouts, not songs, per se, and the palette begins to blur together by the record’s end, even with two vocal tracks to break things up.

On “Engineered Floatation Device” (sic), the heavily processed vocals speak to the experience of Cuban exiles who fled their island home in small boats and rafts, and the song is dark and alluring, with a silver lining of a synthesizer arpeggio. “Defection” covers similar ground, but its chanted couplets and militant theme—“Defection was our only choice/It happened when you first oppressed our voice/We did not retreat from the attack/ We’ve been deep in the swamp working our way back”—feel a little like empty bravado. And the fact that Cuba’s exiled “freedom fighters” left a trail of blood behind them might leave a bad taste in the listener’s mouth: Alpha 606 is named in tribute to Alpha 66, an anti-Castro paramilitary group, founded by Cuban exiles, that allegedly carried out terrorist attacks on tourist targets in Cuba. The style of the track is clearly meant to recall Drexciya, the Detroit electro act who created an Afrofuturist mythology around a supposed race of subaquatic beings who were born to pregnant women thrown overboard during the Middle Passage. But Drexciya’s underwater resistance was an imaginary conceit, and a utopian one at that. Alpha 606 is best when it lets the drums do the talking, and the only thing that goes boom is the kick on the 808.

Beyoncé Arranges On-Stage Marriage Proposal for Dance Captain During “Single Ladies”: Watch

Beyoncé Arranges On-Stage Marriage Proposal for Dance Captain During “Single Ladies”: Watch

At a recent Formation Tour stop in St. Louis, Beyoncé halted her performance of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” halfway through the song to introduce choreographer John Silver to the stage, as Complex reports. Silver then goes on to propose to his girlfriend, dance captain Ashley Everett, in front of the entire crowd at the Dome At America’s Center. Watch it all go down below.

Watch Beyoncé’s video for “Hold Up”:

Solange Discusses Hostility in “Predominately White Spaces” After Kraftwerk Concert Incident

Solange Discusses Hostility in “Predominately White Spaces” After Kraftwerk Concert Incident

Last night, Solange went to a Kraftwerk concert in New Orleans with her 11 year-old son, his friend, and her husband. During the event, she tweeted about a hostile incident that took place. While dancing to one of her favorite Kraftwerk songs, she wrote that “4 older white women yell to me from behind ‘Sit down now.’ I tell them I’m dancing at a concert. They yell, ‘you need to sit down now.’” Then, according to Solange, they threw a lime at her. Find those tweets below.

Today, she shared an essay on her Saint Heron website called “And Do You Belong? I Do.” She wrote about the Kraftwerk concert and gave more context for the story by writing about other incidents when she felt similarly. She goes on to detail what happened after she was hit with the lime.

“You inhale deeply. Your husband calmly asks the group of women did they just throw trash at you. One woman says, ‘I just want to make it clear, I was not the one who yelled those horrible, nasty, things at you.’ Loud enough for you to hear. This leads you to believe they were saying things way worse than what you heard, but you are not surprised at that part one bit.”

She continues, writing, “You realize that you never called these women racists, but people will continuously put those words in your mouth. What you did indeed say is, ‘This is why many black people are uncomfortable being in predominately white spaces,’ and you still stand true to that.” Solange then explains that this kind of incident is unfortunately a common one. “You and your friends have been called the N word, been approached as prostitutes, and have had your hair touched in a predominately white bar just around the corner from the same venue.”

She concludes her essay explaining that even amidst the hostility of the incident, she and her family were able to enjoy the concert:

“After you think it all over, you know that the biggest payback you could ever had (after, go figure, they then decided they wanted to stand up and dance to songs they liked) was dancing right in front of them with my hair swinging from left to right, my beautiful black son and husband, and our dear friend Rasheed jamming the hell out with the rhythm our ancestors blessed upon us saying…We belong. We belong. We belong. We built this.”

Read the full essay here

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Caetano Veloso: Caetano Veloso

In the history books, it was on March 31st, 1964 that a military coup ousted Brazilian President João Goulart. The U.S.-backed junta overtook all branches of government, ending nearly a century of newfound democracy for the one-time adjunct of the Portuguese empire and subjecting the country to two decades of increasingly repressive military rule. In Caetano Veloso’s 2003 memoir Tropical Truth: A Story of Music & Revolution in Brazil, he is adamant that the date is a lie: The coup actually took place on April Fool’s Day. Four years into the new regime, then-twentysomething Brazilian pop singer Veloso recorded his first solo album.

But the first voice you hear on his 1968 self-titled release isn’t that of Veloso, but of Portuguese knight Pêro Vaz de Caminha, credited with discovering Brazil in the year 1500. He wrote a letter to Manuel I, King of Portugal raving about the fertile Brazilian land and how “all that is planted grows and flourishes,” convincing the king that the presumed island was worthy of colonization. Carta de Pero Vaz Caminha is considered the first literary text to emanate from Brazil but it gets parodied in a high nasally voice by Veloso’s drummer Dirceu. Little did the percussionist know that the tapes were running. And when the arranger of the session mimics the “exotic” sounds of the Brazilian rainforest, it points back to that time when Brazil was virgin land, before the empire arrived at her shores.

Caetano Veloso’s debut album remains one of the most revolutionary albums released into the worldwide tumult of the 1960s. The opening salvo of Tropicália, it announced the arrival of the greatest Brazilian talent since João Gilberto and launched a fifty-year career that’s not only changed Brazilian music but American music as well, from Talking Heads to Beck to No Wave legend Arto Lindsay and Animal Collective.

To non-Portuguese speakers, Caetano Veloso might not sound anywhere near as transformative as the other albums of that year: Electric Ladyland, The White Album, White Light/White Heat, Anthem of the Sun, A Saucerful of Secrets, to name just a few. Couched in lush orchestral strings suggestive of the generation prior instead of the psychedelic production effects of the moment, it’s a sound thoughtfully strummed on an acoustic guitar. It has few of the tricks and technology of the aforementioned, but at its heart, it’s a revolt, a message delivered at a purr rather than a howl, elegantly gliding past military censors.

At the time, the album struck a balance between the polemics of communism on the Left and the crushing military might on the Right, sloughing off the nationalism and patriotism on either side while embracing a love of country in the shadow of the American Empire. And at the center of it all was Veloso and his supple, silken voice, a Bing Crosby croon delivered with a glint in his eye and Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries surreptitiously tucked into his back pocket.

The seeds of Tropicália’s revolution were planted the year prior when Veloso submitted “Alegria, Alegria” (“Joy, Joy”) to the TV Record Festival. Featuring a burst of fuzz guitar and electric organ it became Veloso’s first anthem, his self-described “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It’s also his Breathless, his “Chicken Noodle Soup,” at once a critique and embrace of 20th-century pop culture. Veloso drinks Coca-Cola, quotes Sartre, name-drops Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale, all while slyly quoting fellow Brazilian pop star Chico Buarque’s “A Banda” and shrugging his shoulders at the end with the line: “Why not?” It set the themes for the movement to come in Tropicália: courting mass media, distancing themselves from the Left and silently protesting the powers that be. As Veloso later told the New York Times: “It was against the dictatorship without saying anything about it.”

The success of “Alegria, Alegria” emboldened Veloso as he worked on a new album. During lunch at a friend’s house one day, he sang some of the new songs, including one that still didn’t have a title. Brazilian film producer and screenwriter Luiz Carlos Barreto suggested the name of a recent piece from visual artist Hélio Oiticica, an installation that required the viewer to follow a path through sand, lined with tropical plants, until they ended at a television set. “Until I could find a better title the song would be called ‘Tropicália,’” Veloso wrote. “I never did find a better one.”

“Tropicália” opens with Dirceu’s recitation about Brazil as a “tropical paradise,” shouted amid a clatter of jungle drums, tympani, shakers, agogô bells, and the piercingly high frequency of flutes imitating bird song, before the orchestra strikes up and Veloso ambles in like a giant surveying all of Brazil:

Over my head the airplanes
Under my feet the trucks and trains
And pointing out the highland plains is my nose
I organize the movement, too
I lead the carnival.

As expansive, outsized, and hallucinatory as Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” as insouciant and word-drunk as Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Tropicália” is allegory and absorption of all the contradictions of Brazil: its baião rhythms against suave orchestral surges, its colonial opening against the overstuffed modernist lines of Veloso. In the chorus, Veloso praises the sophisticated and urbane song form of bossa nova yet rhymes it with “mud huts.” Throughout the dense lines, Veloso swings from jungle to city, from swimming pools to sea, referring to fellow Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) singers like Elis Regina, Roberto Carlos, and—at the last refrain—to Buarque’s “A Banda” again. Though this time, Veloso adds a twist, rhyming it with the lady in the Tutti Frutti hat, Carmen Miranda.

By that point in the ’60s, Miranda was perceived as kitsch, the Brazil of old, even though early in her singing career, the “Brazilian Bombshell” was her country’s first full-fledged pop star and one of the highest paid entertainers in Hollywood. But Veloso was sincere in his embrace of Miranda, and in teasing out the last syllable of her name, he also nods to Dadaism, melding colorful camp and the avant-garde in just a handful of syllables.

“One characteristic of Tropicália… was precisely the broadening and diversification of the market, achieved through a dismantling of the order of things, with a disregard for distinctions of class or level of education.” So Veloso wrote in Tropical Truth, adding that one goal of their movement was “to sort out the tension between Brazil the Parallel Universe and Brazil the country peripheral to the American Empire.” It was a fine line to straddle, embracing both their own heritage and American pop culture. It meant admiring the colorful cartoonishness of the Kool-Aid Man but neither buying nor drinking the Kool-Aid, all while not falling for the consumerism being offered up religiously since the junta took power.

***

The American poet Elizabeth Bishop traveled to Brazil in the early ’50s. A two-week voyage turned into an 18-year stay in the country, where her aristocratic spouse, Lota de Macedo Soares, fed her access to the upper echelons of Rio society. Bishop found herself with a bird’s-eye view of the coup d’etat that would soon grip the country. She marveled at its efficiency and the support it appeared to engender, writing that these displays of anti-communism were becoming “victory marches [with] more than one million people marching in the rain.” From her perspective, it was simple: “…all in about 48 hours, it was all over…The suspension of rights, dismissing lots of Congress, etc… had to be done—sinister as it may sound.” But for the Brazilians who weren’t in positions of power and prominence, those in the favelas or those in the working classes who would not stand to profit handsomely, something far more sinister loomed.

In the United States, a group of economists began to impose a debilitating economic plan around the world through means of torture and suppression. Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine traces this nefarious economic shock therapy from Iraq in the 2000s back to Indonesia in 1965. But its earliest iterations took place in South America. In 1962, Brazil had elected João Goulart, who Klein writes was “committed to land redistribution, higher salaries and a daring plan to force foreign multinationals to reinvest a percentage of their profits back into the Brazilian economy rather than spiriting them out of the country and distributing them to shareholders in New York and London.” It was a dynamic attempt to close the gap between the rich and poor in the country.

But less than two years later, the U.S.-backed junta ousted the president and—with an economic policy scripted in the White House—instilled a plan “not merely to reverse João Goulart’s pro-poor programs but to crack Brazil wide open to foreign investment.” In just a few short years, most of Brazil’s wealth was in the hands of a few multinational corporations and the income gap widened, never to be narrowed again. That inequality remains today, exemplified by the Olympic Games in Rio. The political corruption and abject poverty lie just beyond the colorful walls erected to keep the favelas out of sight on our television screens.

And as the people took to the streets to protest the economic hardships befalling them, it was these same corporations behind the violent repression that soon followed. In Brasil: Nunca Mais, a book that detailed the dictatorship’s torture record from 1964 until democracy was restored in the 1980s, the extralegal forces that brutalized unions, student groups, and other dissidents were funded “by contributions from various multinational corporations, including Ford and General Motors.”

These nefarious forces at work were neither observed by the ’60s counterculture in the United States (then protesting for civil rights and against the Vietnam War) nor for most of the Brazilians themselves. As Veloso noted of the time, “Almost all of us were unaware of those nuances back then, and even if we had been, it would have changed nothing; we saw the coup simply as a decision to halt the redress of the horrible social inequalities in Brazil.”

But even if the young Veloso wasn’t consciously aware of the corporations sucking his country dry, his lyrics suggest an awareness of something terribly amiss. It’s a line that runs through the work of all who gathered under the banner of Tropicália: fellow Bahian Gilberto Gil; the psychedelic wunderkind trio Os Mutantes; bossa nova singers Gal Costa and Nara Leão; the wry, live wire Tom Zé; Rogério Duprat, the producer who studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen. While Tropicália earned the ire of the Left by not writing overtly political songs, in tapping into the collective disquiet of the time, their songs became all the more resonant.

Mocking his corporate overlords and their thirst for profit, Veloso made a tangy MPB album perfect for public consumption his first time out, his artful pop becoming Pop Art becoming agitprop. “Paisagem Útil” (“Useful Landscape”) scans as a string-laced bossa nova that toys with the title of Tom Jobim’s “Inútil Paisagem” (“Useless Landscape”). It’s an ode to Brazil where Veloso offers up a love of Rio’s city lights and speeding cars, his lovers kissing under the glow of an Esso sign, a romantic scene set in a simulacrum of nature under the auspices of that multinational oil company. The speedy “Superbacana” is a frevo as penned by Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. The titular hero “Supercool” battles Uncle Scrooge and his battalion of cowboy minions and uses advertising lingo for shiny new products like “super-peanut” and “biotonic spinach” and—amid the dizzying blur of slogans—“economic advances.”

Translate the title of the jaunty “Soy Loco Por Ti, America” and it reads as “I Am Crazy for You, America.” And at the time, the Tropicálistas were eagerly absorbing as much music as possible from their neighbors to the north. “We were ‘eating’ the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix,” Veloso said of their influences at the time. “We wanted to participate in the worldwide language both to strengthen ourselves as a people and to affirm our originality.” They fervently spun albums from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, and more, but rather than simply mimic the trends to the north, they made these influences bear out the music of their half of the hemisphere. So on “Soy Loco,” Caetano isn’t being cheeky about loving America, it’s just that he means South America. The song playfully dances between a Colombian cumbia and a Cuban mambo, sung in Portuguese and Spanish, with Veloso hoping for a united South America rather than the North American Empire. The lyrics toy with the notion of naming, be it the name of America or the girl he plans to bring to the beach (Marti), but then Veloso pivots and he sings of a nameless country.

Fun enough beach fare, until Veloso signifies a dead man whose name can’t be said. He continues to land on this figure: “The name of the dead man/Before the permanent night spreads through Latin America/The name of the man/Is the people.” Less than a year prior, on the other side of the Brazilian border in Bolivia, Che Guevara was captured and killed by CIA-assisted forces. It would be decades before Veloso would admit that Che Guevara was the dead man at the center of the song, but with his death, the prospects of a united Latin and South America were imperiled. And in the years ahead, Brazil remained under the heel of the American Empire.

As Tropicália grew in popularity around the country, Veloso began to see more attention from the authorities. A performance with Os Mutantes for Festival Internacional de Canção in September of 1968 became a riotous confrontation with the audience. Soon after, another show featuring Veloso, Gil, and Os Mutantes was staged under another piece of art from Hélio Oiticica. Only this one featured a man recently shot dead by the police with the slogan “seja marginal, seja heroi” (be a criminal, be a hero) written on it. 

By the end of the year, both Veloso and Gilberto Gil were arrested by the military police and detained two months in solitary confinement without being charged with a crime. After being allowed to play a farewell concert, they were then exiled from Brazil for the next four years. Living in London and then in Bahia upon his return in 1972, Veloso continued to record albums that were by turns exquisite, experimental, and introspective.

Veloso recalled an interrogation from an army sergeant during his imprisonment: “The sergeant was revealing that we tropicalistas were the most serious enemies of the regime. But in that little room of the army police, I did not have the strength to feel proud: I was merely afraid.” None of that fear can be heard here. Instead, bravado and bold assurance run through every number. At the center of it all is Veloso, with his swagger and full belief in the power of his songs to dance around the tanks and petroleum companies, to triumph over both the CIA and Uncle Scrooge. Amid the album’s blinding color and tropical fronds that would make Carmen Miranda proud, Veloso made a stand against the dictatorship without saying anything about it.