Caetano Veloso has no idea why you might want to listen to his music. That’s assuming that you—a Chattanooga Pulse reader, like this critic—are not fluent in Portuguese. The revered Brazilian musician and songwriter, now 70 years old with a musical career still going strong after five decades, crafts thoughtful, contemplative lyrics with a level of meaning apparently lost in translation, and because of this lack of comprehension for those who don’t understand Portuguese, Veloso is baffled by his success outside of Brazil.
Musically, those expecting perhaps a throwback to his ’60s Tropicália days or the lush, easy-listening-leaning arrangements of his later years may be slightly startled by his latest full-length, Abraçaço, which is the third of a trilogy of albums, following Cê and Zii e Zie, featuring the group BandaCê; each of these three albums has its own identity, although they’re tied together with an atypical aesthetic with just a few rhythmic hints of various Brazilian genres and at times sounding more like an indie-rock band. Abraçaço wanders emotionally, yet it seems to remain focused in its mission; it’s recorded starkly—produced by Veloso’s son Moreno Veloso and Pedro Sa—with an honest sound that is not overproduced in the least. The easy balance of the album lets Veloso’s warm and welcoming voice become the center of attention.
Subtle psychedelic guitar licks permeate the album, from the solo on “Um Abraçaço”—referring to a big, comprehensive embrace, suggested by the album’s cover photo—to the wah-wah inflections and staccato stabs of “Parabéns” (“Congratulations”) with lyrics taken from a birthday email sent by Mauro Lima. To convey depression and emptiness, “Estou Triste” uses a sauntering distorted guitar melody and acoustic guitar heartbeat with sporadic cymbal hits, and the long, trudging “Um Comunista” is reflective and mournful, combining Veloso’s own story with that of the killed Marxist rebel Carlos Marighella. The album’s pace varies, with the arresting buzz pulse of “Funk Melódico” to the sparing arrangement featured on “Quando o Galo Cantou,” conveying a post-coital peace. Abraçaço doesn’t function like a manipulative movie soundtrack that musically dictates how one must feel; however, is it up to non-Portuguese speakers to do a little digging to seek its emotional resonance.
The title of the new Saturday Looks Good to Me album, One Kiss Ends It All, sounds like the cynical response to the name of the epic ’60s girl-group compilation One Kiss Can Lead to Another from 2005. On one level, it’s appropriate, knowing that the group has a profound love for girl groups and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”-type arrangements, even sampling The Ronettes in the past. However, the title seems to defy the band’s own comeback and rebirth, with front man and songwriter Fred Thomas re-assembling the group after a hiatus after its 2007 album Fill up the Room, which seemed like a conscious effort to step away from the apparent Spector/Brian Wilson/Motown worship of years past. Throughout the album, the listener is confronted with endings and goodbyes, like the line “Let the world disappear like a dusted dream,” in one of the album’s high points, “Invisible Friend.” However, there’s a mini-story-arc, with “New City” offering the suggestion, “It’s time to build a new city when it’s falling apart,” followed by the here-and-now immediacy of “The Ever-Present New Times Condition.”
One Kiss Ends It All occasionally falls back on the group’s old methods and sources, from the faint dub-influenced echoes of “Empty Beach” to the nostalgically reverb-drenched guitar and Beach Boys-esque keyboard chords of “Are You Kissing Anyone?” and the string and saxophone enhanced arrangements. Even the lo-fi aesthetic of the group’s early days is represented on the slightly warped intro “One Kiss,” serving as a partial nod to cassette culture.
Newcomer Carol Catherine takes lead singer duties since Betty Marie Barnes moved to Sweden, although Barnes lends her voice on several tracks, joining Amber Fellows and Autumn Wetli with the typical rotating-singer method of the band. The singers are on the opposite side of the spectrum of the American Idol-style honed-and-glossy vocalists, and they are all too happy to hold a note without breaking into vibrato; that said, some may feel like the singing is too unrefined, even for those accustomed to indie-rock approaches. It will take a few more listens to let the pop hooks dig their claws in fully, and the lyrics aren’t as tight as before, with a more flowing attitude; still, it’s apparent that Thomas has a knack for pop-song creation. One Kiss Ends It All isn’t the flat-out masterpiece that the band’s 2003 album All Your Summer Songs was, and while it doesn’t carve out new territory, it resists its title, not feeling like an ending but more as a warm-up for its second wind.