Três is a contrast in silence and sound, shifting gears between noise and melody in spare arrangements.
The third album from São Paulo musician-producer Thiago Nassif, Três is a contrast in silence and sound, shifting gears between noise and melody in spare arrangements that feature floor-rattling bass and poetic lyrics dryly crooned in Portuguese. If that sounds a little bit like an Arto Lindsay album, it’s no coincidence; Nassif co-produced Lindsay’s 2017 album Cuidado Madame, and Lindsay returns the favor, producing this album, co-writing a few tracks and contributing his distinctive guitar.
“Desordem” (“Disorder”) starts the album with isolated bass notes plucked at patient intervals, accompanying Nassif’s vocals as dissonant fills of electronic noise and Lindsay’s six-string builds a sensuous tension. The stilted, staccato rhythms echo Captain Beefheart but are both more experimental than Trout Mask Replica and more accessible. That’s thanks to the composition’s deliberate structure (this is one of the tracks co-written by Lindsay) as well as to Domenico Lancellotti’s drums, which grounds the spare abstraction with positively sexy percussion.
This playful musical conflict continues on “Pensamentos” (“Thoughts”), which features two bassists in Wyatt Mims and Alberto Continentino—and they may as well be percussion instruments too. Nassif plays his own distinctly distorted guitar solo, and an electronic horn chart fuels a battle between organic and synthesized timbres. This is challenging yet thoroughly infectious music, the heavy beats and wild bursts of rhythmic noise supporting a lyric that, as translated by Lindsay, seems perfectly ethereal: “Thoughts that leave/ From a place of joy/ And flow through the air/ Winds and fantasy.” Nassif courts more conventional funk on “Shiu (Coçar Onde Coça),” which loosely translates to “Scratching where it itches,” an apt image for the twitching rhythms.
One of the more conventionally arranged tracks, “Senhora Moda” (“Dame Fashion”) is just guitar and vocal with an almost subconscious keyboard drone, but its lyrics (translated from the Portuguese) point to Nassif’s complicated relationship with tradition: “Dame fashion molds herself, and molds me/ Turns inward, turns me inside myself/ And touch by hidden touch I ring/ A bell in the key of her fate.” Curiously, the guitar line seems to echo the Pointer Sisters’ cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.”
Três is a brilliant synthesis of art and commerce, avant-garde and pop elements, a progression of sorts from Nassif’s previous work, which was as likely to be performed in galleries as nightclubs. His 2009 album Garçonnière featured audio collages, and the 2011 Práxis counted painters and sculptors among its musical lineup. Still, this latest album is more consistently inventive, creating a more distinct flavor (if one that owes a great debt to Lindsay) from an organic lineup. On “Time Thick (Tempo Denso),” lightly amplified guitars and gentle percussion paint what at first seems like a more traditional bossa nova, but the subtle subversions are still there, this time in rhythms that subtly jerk against lyrics (in English) that tell of what should be a relaxing image: “Ocean white/ Very still/ At low tide.” Yet as Nassif croons, “Waves are not breaking,” the smooth rhythms drop out in an evocative, disorienting sound collage that breaks the reverie.
The album’s spare instrumentation and swampy sound makes it a worthy descendant of such soundscapes as Latin Playboys and, well, Arto Lindsay’s ‘90s solo work. But it’s not always easy to tell where Lindsay’s music ends and Nassif’s begins on Três, and that’s a credit to their seamless collaboration. Still, the album has an unmistakable influence, and fans of Lindsay’s signature skronk-and-croon will love this album’s well integrated personality.