If bossa nova is chocolate cake, Brazilian Girls are chocolate mousse. Brazilian Girls embody all the elements of the 1960s style — its complex harmonics, swanky mood, coolly undulating structure, solitary acoustic guitar — but include a handful of other elements that only increase the richness and flavor of their music. In 2005 the deceivingly named band (they are not Brazilian and only one is a girl) showcased their playful talent and grooving attitude on their self-titled debut. On their sophomore effort, “Talk To La Bomb,” they once again present a rather decadent bossa nova that pleases the palate for the first few slices, but does not leave the listener longing for the entire cake.
Brazilian Girls sound best when their flashy rhythms are blasting from Bose noise-canceling headphones. Their unique brand of bossa nova includes a bellowing bass and keyboard which add sweeping productive elements, from whirling swoons to hyperactive beats. The synth elements on “Jique,” the highlight track, charge the track and give it a chaotic rough-and-tumble sound. And the pulses added to “All About Us” elevate an otherwise passive ballad into a bouncy dance track.
Where traditional bossa nova songs were all written in Portuguese, Brazilian Girls exploit the international background of lead singer Sabina Sciubba and churn out numbers in five different languages (Sciubba was born in Rome and lived in Nice and Munich before landing in Brooklyn), for better and for worse. The dizzying “Sweatshop” is made even more seductive through Sciubba’s French drawl, but even the tempting German chants in “Sexy Asshole” cannot save the lazy blandness that characterizes the track. (In all fairness, though, a song with the genius title of “Sexy Asshole” should never be measured against normal standards.)
For all their supplements to bossa nova’s usual understated elegance, Brazilian Girls deliver a surprisingly coherent product. They’ve thought through each element of their wide-ranging aural spectrum, and there are no loose threads — everything is in place because it is supposed to be there. Their additions to the subtly gorgeous genre yield neither a messy nor haphazard sound. Quite the opposite: Their lyrics are fun, their hooks are catchy, and a thumping bass drives it all home. Further, Sciubba’s personal style is evident in her tone, as her soulful crooning and articulate diction brings the perfect mix of demure charisma and brash confidence to the fore.
But “Talk To La Bomb” still has a handful of unfortunate missteps. Most of what goes awry on this record is a result of overexperimentation. The Brazilian Girls’ heavy stylization goes a bit overboard at times, resulting in several overwhelming and tiresome tracks. While the Ric Ocasek-produced “Last Call” seems to get it right with a funky keyboard reverb and equally exultant echoing vocals, “Never Met a German” is burdened by a throbbing current that underlies the track, drowning out Sciubba’s wails and erratic supporting strings.
When trying to reinvent a genre, it’s so easy to fall into a painfully imitative rut, but on “Talk To La Bomb,” Brazilian Girls prove they have what it takes to reinvent a classic musical style, even if their execution falters at times. They have moved beyond the expectations of a house outfit to incorporate more color and flavor into their music. Ultimately, the Brazilian Girls’ latest effort is a skillful, though not entirely consistent, execution of sultry fun. These girls may not be from Ipanema, but they are still “tall and tan and young and lovely.”