The first set in the double Encyclopedia of Arto comprises Arto Lindsay’s choice pick of songs from his six most recent solo albums. Recorded between 1996 and 2004, these were: O Corpo Sutil/The Subtle Body, Mundo Civilizado, Noon Chill, Prize, Invoke and Salt. Each strains sensuous Brazilian rhythms through a filter of New York art-rock, at the service of Lindsay’s inimitably poetic lyrics. A second disc features Lindsay live and solo. With no explicit rhythms or production gloss to smooth things over, it’s just Arto and his twitchy no-wave energy, playing from the same songbook. With the music stripped of its studio refinement, the abrasive barbs and slashes of Lindsay’s guitar are exposed in all their gnarly glory.
Lindsay is one of music’s true originals. Growing up in Brazil thanks to missionary parents, his early teens coincided with the politically-charged late ’60s Tropicália movement. On moving back to his birthplace of New York, in ’78 he was a founder member of seminal New York No Wave trio DNA. After the final edition of DNA disbanded in 1982, Lindsay became a key player in both John Laurie’s Lounge Lizards, and the first, 1983 edition of fellow Lounge Lizard Anton Fier’s Golden Palominos, alongside John Zorn, Bill Laswell and Fred Frith.
The first explicit manifestations of Brazillian influence in Lindsay’s music can be heard in the art-rock Bossa Nova of Ambitious Lovers, Lindsay’s avant-pop duo with keyboardist Peter Scherer, which recorded three albums between 1984 and 1991. The last, Lust, featured a guest vocal by Caetano Veloso, and it was as an Ambitious Lover that Lindsay first recorded his own vocals in Portuguese.
Lindsay’s first post-Ambitious Lovers solo album, Aggregates 1-26 (Knitting Factory Works, 1995), takes several steps back toward the jagged, spartan and atonal sound of DNA, albeit not so tightly-knotted. So at the time, O Corpo Sutil came as quite a surprise.
The music on that, and on the five other albums that donate songs to the Encyclopedia of Arto Volume 1, is a refined meld of urban American and post-Tropicália Brazilian styles, which benefits immensely Lindsay’s production skills. He’s been involved with some of the best music by such exceptional Brazilian artists such as Carlinhos Brown, Vinicius Cantuária, Gal Costa, Marisa Monte , Caetano Veloso and Tom Zé. One notable song, “Ela Ela”, which Lindsay co-wrote for Caetano Veloso’s pivotal late 80s album Circulado, also features Lindsay’s improvised solo guitar accompaniment.
On Encyclopedia of Arto Volume 2, which was recorded at a club in Brooklyn in 2012, Lindsay plays his own solo guitar accompaniments as paroxysmal spasms. Self-taught, his technique is nothing but extended, albeit feathered with brusque strumming. But the focus is primarily on the songs, and the songs, notwithstanding those shards of irruptive guitar, are intensely melodic and wryly sensual. Music that’s both melodic and paroxysmal: that’s both the pleasure and, for some, the pain when it comes to Arto-appreciation.
In his recent Wire review, Clive Bell writes: “Lindsay stands back from the lyric, a smart, PoMo guitar dude who doesn’t quite believe what he’s singing, so we don’t believe it either,” which couldn’t be more wrong. Lindsay sings in intimate near-caresses, with a twinkle in the eye and a hint of irony that acknowledges a disconnect between his unprepossessing appearance and the occasional voluptuousness of songs like “The Prize”: “Rub words away / Roll back in the shade / Violent and hectic and wise.” Lindsay’s rebarbative guitar playing revels in that disconnect.
The album-culled tracks on Encyclopedia of Arto Volume 1 are enhanced by impeccably subtle contributions from guests including Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Vinicius Cantuaria, and frequent collaborators such as bassist Melvin Gibbs and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. These tracks include some of Lindsay’s loveliest songs, notably “Child Prodigy” (co-written by Caetano Veloso, quid pro quo).
Two of the best of Lindsay’s more complex songs, “The Prize” and “Invoke”, are included, in very different versions, on both volumes. Two covers he’s remade his own, Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” and Prince’s “Erotic City”, both from Mundo Civilizado, are reserved for the live set. Volume 2 also includes one previously unreleased original song, titled “Pony”; two short, exclusive instrumentals: “Wall of Guitar” and “Garden Wall of Guitar”; a version of an Ambitious Lovers classic, “Privacy”; and two also-new covers sung in Portuguese: Chico Buarque’s “Estação Derradeira”, and the Carioca Samba traditional “Maneiras”.
These paired volumes document Lindsay’s unique dichotomies in very different ways, but on each the shrewd seduction of Tropicália rubs up against the invigorating violence of New York noise.