Gal Costa, one of the greatest and most exquisite Brazilian female singers of all time, has released what is arguably the most daring album of her four-decade career. Recanto was masterminded by life-long friend Caetano Veloso, who should be considered as much an author of this album as Costa. In fact, sonically and lyrically, Recanto clearly belongs with Veloso's recent infatuation with noise rock and electronica, begun on Cê (2006) and further pursued on Zii e Zie (2009). Of course, Veloso is one of those artists who has devoted his life to pulverizing creative boundaries, so even if he is pushing 60, another left turn was always in the cards. Not so much for his contemporary Costa, who, aside from a brief spell as the muse of the Tropicália movement in the late '60s, has generally been a mainstream MPB performer (and lately quite the classicist, too). It should be noted that even if Costa and Veloso have collaborated plenty of times in the past, Recanto is a very different sort of proposition. While Veloso is one of Brazil's foremost songwriters, and Costa has performed countless numbers of his compositions, he has rarely written an entire album for another artist, as he does here. Most crucially, these are not the type of songs Veloso uses to write specifically for a female singer (for instance, Costa's "Dom de Iludir" or Maria Bethânia's "Mel"). Rather, this sounds like a Caetano Veloso album sung by Gal Costa. Recanto is also a strikingly oppressive album in Costa's canon, courtesy of Veloso's grim observations on the human condition today, and of the menacing beats and surging electric guitars contributed by the same team Veloso has assembled for his latest aesthetic reincarnation, the one formed by his sons Moreno and Zeca Veloso, and Kassim. As a result, hearing Costa's timeless voice in an electronica setting punctured with bursts of feedback, delivering Veloso's hermetic musings, can come as quite a shock. Still, Recanto works much better than Veloso's recent albums, chiefly because Costa's voice adds a sense of longing and humanity to what is essentially a cerebral, quasi-robotic work. In fact, if there is one single regret about Recanto, it is that Costa does not sing more, as later-day Veloso's compositions are closer to concrete-poetry-monologue than a melody; better as ideas than as songs. Not surprisingly, Costa sounds more like herself on the only two covers here: "Mansidão," a 1982 hit for Jane Duboc featuring Daniel Jobim on piano, and Duplexx's "Madre Deus" (even if the latter has a furious distortion intermezzo), but it is not here that Recanto achieves its significance. The album's greatness comes from its bold, uncompromising conception and execution, and above all, from how those ideas are shaped into captivating pieces of music. The first track, "Recanto Escuro," sounds like a stunning Tropicalia version of Portishead, and is graced by one of the album's best poems: the supremely ironic "Autotune Erotico" toys with Costa's gorgeous voice and lyrically updates Jobim's "Desafinado" for the computer age; "Neguinho" offers a devastating portrait of the rampant consumerism among Brazil's black population -- a far cry from the political activism and optimism of Veloso and Gilberto Gil's youth -- set to an automated, soulless disco beat. It may not always work, and it may certainly not sound at all like the everyman idea of Brazilian music, but Recanto is a formidable work that both confirms and renovates the thoroughly deserved legendary stature of its creators.
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