Rogerio Brandão cuts the center out of his sound on his debut album Cartas Na Manga, leaving in its place a throbbing force field that holds together the constituent parts of its nine tracks. What’s going on between the drums is as interesting as the drums themselves, and if you stick your fingers into the empty spaces you might get zapped. Given the level of intensity sustained across the four EPs he released earlier this decade, it was probably inevitable the Portuguese producer would tone his sound down when it was time for his full-length debut. What’s less expected is that he does it with such a vengeance.

Cartas Na Manga is always surprising. Whenever you think Brandão might be getting a little too sentimental—like when he brings in a kiddie xylophone on “Namha,” or summons lonesome chords on “Faz A Minha” that suggest The Other People Place’s “You Said You Want Me”—he flips a switch and reconfigures the track as a banger. There’s usually a lot going on in Brandão’s productions, but Cartas Na Manga is uncluttered and streamlined, perfect for big speakers and bigger crowds. That these tracks err towards the tempo of house and techno further suggests he’s trying to broaden his reach.

But his idiosyncrasies remain intact. Listen to the unholy, screaming wind that fills the space through which the drums tumble and flip on “Sub Zero,” which after a truly terrifying DJ tag is replaced with little buzzing synths that seem to grapple and bite. Cartas Na Manga has a suavity, a grace, a sense of knowing exactly what it’s doing; Jlin’s computer-samurai shtick comes to mind. Brandão presents himself here as a professional, someone who knows what the crowd wants and has the skill and vision to deliver it in a way that’s interesting rather than one that feels like a concession.

The more subdued approach we encounter here doesn’t always work. Some of the later tracks, especially “Pão de Cada Dia,” hang uncertainly between the hyperactivity of the producer’s earlier style and something more ambient. More effective is closing track “5 Violinos,” which uses a digital steel drum the way a folk singer might use an acoustic guitar: as the skeleton for an uncommonly soft and sensitive piece. It’s reminiscent of My Love I Love, Bogdan Raczynski’s fascinating collection of digital confessionals; it’s the quietest thing Brandão’s ever done, and one of the most confounding.

The Afro-Portuguese club sound is desired abroad for its strangeness. Taken out of context, it might disorient the listener the way footwork did when it first made its way out of Chicago. For those not intimately familiar with Brandão’s sound, Cartas Na Manga is a good litmus test for whether you desire it for its strangeness or for its craft. For the most part, this record’s not going to sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, but the skill that went into it is obvious. If it’s “weird,” it because Brandão has gone out of his way to make it weird, while still delivering the goods as dance music.

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