By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
IN THE LATE '70s Arto Lindsay responded to punk and made himself the king of skronk, the flailing guitar-noise form that typified NYC no wave, laying the groundwork for Sonic Youth and their nations of imitators. Now, after exploring his Brazilian roots with his art-pop-fusion group Ambitious Lovers and collaborating with various art-minded Brazilian pop stars (notably on two gorgeous early-'90s albums by Brazilian song poet Caetano Veloso, Estrangeiro and Circulado), he reasserts himself as a very different kind of king: the king of the lower Manhattan bossa nova singers.
Think of him as Antonio Carlos Jobim meets Freedy Johnston, sort of. Mundo Civilizado presents him as one of the world's brainiest (along with Veloso) bossa nova singers, an intoner of soft ballads with vaguely autobiographical images of smart, middle-age people thinking about sex, and now and again even getting some. This is beautiful, smart music and it contains everything that could ever possibly be good on any Arto Lindsay record. Which is to say it contains everything that could possibly be good on any middle-age pop record.
The mild samba beats that typified last year's The Subtle Body get blurred here with drum'n'bass and dub-hop effects. It makes sense: Two decades down the road from no wave, NYC skronk guitar is replaced with NYC skronk electronica (stop-action samples, hide-and-seek drum loops, and "textures" by the omniscient DJ Spooky and illbient peer DJ Mutamassik). Yet it's the defects, not the effects, that make Mundo Civilizado great. Your average bossa nova singer is unlikely to step outside character enough to admit that "in all its innocence my samba/ May be hiding some malice within." In Arto's case, his samba better be, because his totally limited voice is at best only passably pretty during "Mar de Gavea"; it's enduringly helpless while rendering Al Green's "Simply Beautiful." Yet when his conversational sing-read bumps up against Spooky's sequencer gravel on the title track, or turns Prince's deflowering come-on "Erotic City" into something cooly, maybe even coldly, diplomatic, Arto's career-long ability to misplace himself seamlessly within disconsolate styles becomes friendlier, and and more pleasurable, than any NYC coolness I've ever come across.
The eight remixes on Hyper Civilizado play on Mundo Civilizado's blend of Brazilian rhythms and futurist breakbeats by reworking its three most interesting tracks, "Complicity," "Q Samba," and "Mundo Civilizado," via Spooky, SPIT, DJ Soul Slinger, and other kindred head-music DJs. Each song is treated at first as little more than an elongated version of itself, but by record's end nothing remotely resembles the original mold. The oceanic ambience of "Complicity" is done once by SPIT as textural skronk, later by Elated Systems as straight-up drum'n'bass. In the hands of DJ Soul Slinger and SPIT, the lovely acoustic loop in "Mundo Civilizado" becomes the thin backbone for feverishly tough hard-hop. Not since the re-mixes from Everything But the Girl's Walking Wounding has this type of thing been done this interestingly. Further proof that circa now, meta is betta.