No-one fuses avant-garde songwriting with sensuality like Arto Lindsay. He’s an amalgam of Prince and Derek Bailey, producing songs that fuse spiky New York No Wave energy with elements of funk, electronica and bossa-nova.
Lindsay grew up in Brazil in the turbulent 60s, when tropicália artists couched resistance to government repression in popular song. Moving to New York in the mid 70s he was at the heart of post-punk No Wave, playing in DNA alongside synth drum pioneer Ikue Mori. But he maintained a connection with Brazil, later working as producer for musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Carlinhos Brown and Marisa Monte, and that experience feeds back into his own music.
After a period of silence, 2014 yielded both a new solo live set yoked to a ‘best of’ compilation of tracks from six albums released between 1996 and 2004 (the double Encyclopedia of Arto), but also an atypical, explosive improvised duet with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (Scarcity).
It’s the solo live set that cuts to the heart of Arto, the slyly sensual singer/songwriter whose seductions are spiked by paroxysms of atonal electric guitar. But Cuidado Madame picks up the thread of those six albums bookended by O Corpo Sutil (1996) and Salt (2004), which saw a steady evolution from gentle, semi-acoustic post-Tropicalismo to a more involved production style.
The 11 songs on Cuidado Madame were mostly recorded in a New York studio, making full use of programming to enhance a band supplemented by session players, but their foundations were laid in Rio.
In a Billboard interview, Lindsay explained his idea: “to take Candomblé drums, these Brazilian ritual drums that play these beautiful, complicated patterns. Each one summons a different deity, and the deity will possess some of the people involved in the ceremony … (and) mix that with gospel … to put together soul music and samba.” “I didn’t want to make a blend. I wanted to have both of them there with their roots exposed.”
So Candomblé ritual rhythms played on three atabaques (Afro-Brazilian hand drums) are sometimes fully present in the mix, and sometimes used as samples spliced to fit American rhythms, as on ‘Tangles’, which bustles along on a pleasingly fat thumbed bass hook courtesy of Lindsay’s sometime producer/long-time right-hand man Melvin Gibbs (Decoding Society, Rollins Band, Harriet Tubman).
The blend of Candomblé rhythm, Hammond organ and post funk is most explicit on ‘Unpair’ and album highlight ‘Ilha Dos Prazeres’, which translates as ‘Island of Pleasures’ (almost the title of a 1979 Brazilian “tropical island sexploitation” film. The album title – literal translation Careful, Madame – is borrowed from a 70s film, a story of oppressed housemaids turning on their mistresses).
‘Unpair’ features a rare irruption of Lindsay’s trademark lacerative guitar, which also gets a cameo, cut & spliced with abstract vocalisations, on ‘Arto vs. Arto’, a piece that would’ve fit nicely on 1995’s Aggregates 1-26 or, at a push, on a DNA record. (That track title may not be as self explanatory as it seems. The piece is co-credited to Patrick Higgins of Zs, who also plays guitar on the album.)
Lead cut ‘Grain by Grain’ is more typical. The Brazilian influences are downplayed in a busy, bustling studio production, but Lindsay gives it soul: “I love my handwriting,” he sings: “I love my hand writing your name / On your belly / Till you forget your name.” On balance this is a less sensuous album than others Lindsay has made, but here’s a reminder that Lindsay routinely out-eroticises Prince on covers of ‘Erotic City’.
Another album highlight is ‘Seu Pai’ (‘Your Father’), an essentially acoustic number and one of a handful that Lindsay sings in Portuguese. It prominently features co-writer and Brazilian guitarist Lucas Santtana, but also enfolds subtle programmed abstractions of funk carioca courtesy of DJ Omulu.
‘Vão Queimar Ou Botando Pra Dançar’ (Google translated: ‘Gonna Burn or Bounce to Dance’) is more urban, with deep bass throbs and a steady hiphop pulse measured against Icaro Sa’s cicatrix pandeiro and judicious shards of Lindsay’s guitar.
Still, the last piece is one that Lindsay co-wrote with Marisa Monte, the light samba ‘Pele De Perto’ (literal translation ‘Close Skin’), and which he sings straight, accompanied by only limpid acoustic guitar and piano.
‘Pele De Perto’ reconnects to the nu-bossa-nova vibe of O Corpo Sutil, but Cuidado Madame also strips away some of the studio gloss of the later albums to reveal more of Lindsay’s post-punk DNA without diluting the complexity of the aggregated live and programmed rhythms. It’s a complex balance, but Lindsay makes it work because everything serves to animate his inimitably poetic/seductive lyricism. The rough edges only serve to emphasise the realness of the emotional charge.
Buy Cuidado Madame direct from Northern Spy.