It is perhaps fair to say that few phrases used in conjunction with music inspire trepidation and unease quite like ‘concept album’; no doubt the mere mention of the term is enough to set many a music fan’s face into a wince as they recall the bizarre psychedelia infused efforts of the 1960s, or the prog-rock excesses of the 1970s. Often a useful hint as to the palatability of the music can be garnered from the concept itself, of course – ludicrous themes tend to be paired with equally ludicrous tunes – and then there is the more subtle line of attack: create a concept upon which to loosely hang a collection of songs, thereby just granting yourself enough distance to slip out of the confines of your regular persona.
It is this latter approach which is now the most favoured, and the one which has been adopted here in Las Venus Resort Palace Hotel, the new album from Brazilian artist Cibelle Cavalli. She even concocts a new musical alter ego, Sonja Khalecallon, backed by her band Los Stroboscopious Luminous, to deliver an album from a post-apocalyptic world in which the only thing that has managed to rise from the ashes is an opulent tropical hotel, spinning through the universe on the burnt out shell of Earth. From the outset the contrast of disaster and luxury is a strange and interesting slant, and Cavalli capitalises on this throughout; despite the rather enticing name, the titular hotel at times appears to deal in the kind of barely concealed malice of the Hotel California.
There is no hint of this at first, however, as no sooner has the bellboy taken the luggage to our room than we find ourselves, piña colada in hand, being soothed by the calypso of ‘Underneath The Mango Tree’, and the decimated planet outside seems a long way away. The equally calming ‘Melting The Ice’, with its sweetly strummed ukuleles, shuffling drums and slightly muffled vocals, adds to the dreamy feeling of falling asleep on some isolated Caribbean beach, and the unashamedly joyous but delightfully simple pop of ‘Frankenstein’ is the undoubted highlight of the album (and wouldn’t sound amiss on a Feist record).
Elsewhere, the languid Tijuana sway of ‘Escute Bem’ adds a dash of Latin colour to proceedings, while the bass groove of ‘Sapato Azul’ is liable to plant itself in your mind and refuse to budge. Even Kermit the Frog is given the honour of being covered here, with an earnest and charming rendition of ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’. It’s not all sweetness and light though; one or two lost souls appear to have taken residence, including the eponymous couple of ‘Mr & Mrs Grey’, an upper class husband and wife who can barely disguise their dissatisfaction with their lives, and the fatal lovers depicted in ‘The Gun & The Knife’ – which contains a distinct echo of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’. Similarly, the haunting, beautiful ‘Sad Piano’, which reads like an unsettling dream (“I have a sad piano / he won’t let me play / my fingers are stiff like hard clay”).
In Las Venus Resort Palace Hotel, then, Cavalli has achieved quite a difficult feat – a coherent record with a concept which allows her to be flexible enough to create a broad range of compositions whilst managing to sustain a feel and mood throughout. In almost every music fan’s search for the soundtrack to their summer, this is one record which definitely should not be overlooked.
[Crammed Discs; April 12, 2010]