Around the world, the origin stories of electronic music often lie with Brian Eno. John Gomez, who compiled Outro Tempo, happened upon a used copy of a Marco Bosco album in Oxfam, the UK equivalent of Goodwill. The album included a personal note to Eno explaining that “we work with tapes and sounds of nature.” Did Eno donate the album without an audition? We’ll never know, but the artists on this anthology are right in Eno’s wheelhouse—and yours.
Much of this music was made during the waning years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, the two-decade rule that saw the exile of legendary Tropicália figures like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. The album’s title comes from something musician Priscilla Ermel said to Gomez, that her burst of creative activity in the ‘80s came from “another relationship with time.” These Brazilian artists explored modern sounds while maintaining the integrity of musical traditions. The results were an evocative music that in some cases sound conventional and a bit dated, but in others truly seemed to exist in another time.
The set begins with tracks that aren’t far removed from ‘80s pop trends. Piry Reis’ “O Sol Na Janela” has a languid melody carried by synths that sound like its 1984 release date without falling prey to the contemporary excesses. Cinema was a kind of Brazilian synth-pop band, and “Sem Teto” (from 1985) has a vibe that suggests Allison Statton’s post-Young Marble Giants group, Weekend.
More expansive is a pair of instrumental tracks from guitarist Nando Carniero’s 1983 album Violão. “G.R.E.S. Luxo Artezanal / O Camponês” begins with a tropical beat and smooth bass line with ‘80s synths, but its steady, danceable pulse (from a drum machine) segues into a rippling ambient guitar. Carniero explains that there was a national resistance to electronic instruments at the time, so much so that musicians had to bribe officials to allow the newfangled equipment into the country. Guitarist Egberto Gismonti, whose influence hovers over much of this set, spurred Carniero and his peers to push the boundaries of Brazilian music, and the results took the music in a new direction while retaining its national character.
“Eu Só Quero Um Xodó” recontextualizes the music’s roots in Tropicália. This 1990 track from Os Mulheres Negras covers a song recorded by Gilberto Gil in 1973. While it has a tropical chorus, its beat is kept by electronic pulses, with sitar and electric guitar fills that in context sound futuristic themselves. The group’s reggae-flavored instrumental “Mãoscolorida” suffers from a slightly off-key sax lead, which sends us back to the era’s more dated sensibilities for a few minutes.
Fernando Falcão brings the set closer to Eno territory with the “Amanhecer Tabajra (À Alceu Valença).” Like Eno’s 1980 collaboration with Jon Hassell, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics, this blends the timbres of tropical woodwinds and percussion with an atmospheric electronic pulse. (Collector’s note: copies of Falcão’s 1981 album fetch hundreds of dollars; thanks to Music From Memory for licensing this intriguing, affordable sample for us.)
Outro Tempo gets more abstract and more luscious on its second half. The title of Caricoa’s “Branca” invokes the avant-garde composer known for his wall of heavily distorted guitars, but this is a dramatic acoustic guitar instrumental with harmonics that do sound like a gentler version of say, Branca’s The Ascension. Marco Bosco’s “Sol Da Manhã,” from 1986, features abstract strings that recall a John Zorn game piece, if it had tropical percussion, that is.
Priscilla Ermel, who named the album, earns the album’s prime spots with two extended tracks. The nine-minute “Gestos de Equilíbrio” (1989) combines delicate acoustic strings with lush electronics. From 1992, “Corpo do Vento” weaves its magic spell for nearly 16 minutes. Beginning with a tribal beat, it moves through traditional and electronic instruments in a hypnotic soundscape that takes Fourth Worlds places it may have never imagined.
Outro Tempo takes a sharp turn from forward-looking pop music to bold experimentation, and two discs of the latter alone might well merit five stars. The context is necessary, but the pop hybrids can seem like failed attempts at what the set’s more adventurous musicians achieved. Yet the set ends with what seems to be its most traditional track. The gorgeous vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar on Luhli e Lucina’s “E Foi” send us back to Brazil’s musical roots, shifting from pleasing conventions to experimental phasing. It reminds us that musical adventurers exist on a spectrum where anything, from the most ancient folk sounds to the most modern technological wonders, can make music that endures.