What makes Brazilian music so recognizably Brazilian? There's the mad clatter of rhythm, of course, but just a little bit of listening—to the way voices rush and hover, melodies flitter and flag, and guitars mix insistence with laziness—raises the question of whether Brazilian music circulates in entirely different air with different gravitational properties.
It's a testament to the ineffable bond between Brazilian sounds that the songs on Tropicália: A Brazilian Revolution In Sound skew as traditional in their own untraditional ways. Surveying a movement that flared around 1968, the compilation works as a serious treatment of tropicalia, a corollary to the rambunctious styles that took shape across the globe as the '60s grew messy. Per the album's excellent 50-page liner booklet, tropicalia was as concerned with tending its roots as it was with ripping them out. After the breezy bossa-nova craze took hold behind the success of "The Girl From Ipanema"—released in America just weeks before Brazil fell under a military dictatorship—artists like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Tom Zé struggled to celebrate the same Brazilian identity they squirmed within. The result was strong-willed folk music eager to consume the crosscutting foreign influences of The Beatles, Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Followers will have most everything here, but Tropicália works as a strong primer with a lesson to teach. From the psychedelic-rock digressions of Os Mutantes to the game operatic voicings of Gal Costa to the airy chirps of the heaven-sent Jorge Ben, the album cycles through electrifying anthems plugged into a past in need of a new outlet. It's radical music that stretched to engage as much as it could, with open arms poised to punch or hug on cue.