Finally, after seven albums beginning with 1998's Juggernaut, Flemish avant-world funksters and rhythm-aholics Think of One have an album distributed in the United States (thanks to Crammed and Rykodisc): 2006's Tráfico. For those unfamiliar with the band's wanderings, Think of One are apt to turn up recording with indigenous musicians practically anywhere on Earth, from the Equator to the Arctic. Chuva em Pó, released in 2004, was the first fruit of the band's sojourns to Recife, capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco and home to Afro-Brazilian musical and performance forms like maracatu and forro. The Belgians, led by guitarist/vocalist David Bovée and including saxophonist Eric Morel, bassist Tomas de Smet, trombonist/tubaist Tobe Wouters, and drummer Roel Poriau, were joined by vocalists and percussionists from the region, notably singers Dona Cila do Côco and Cris Nolasco, and the result was one of the band's finest records to date, combining the influences of Antwerp and Recife in a successful blend of rhythm, atmosphere, and sonic adventurousness. For Tráfico, Think of One returned to Recife and continued their collaboration with area musicians, including Cila do Côco and Nolasco. The disc is a worthy follow-up to Chuva em Pó, perhaps a bit more pop-influenced as Bovée -- balancing nonchalance and edginess rather like Kevin Ayers in the age of caffeine -- and the other vocalists sing of such topics as an uncomfortable barroom atmosphere, waiting on a terrace for a girlfriend who will never arrive, a sea goddess, selling items in a marketplace, and a man who falls into a shellfish tank (it helps if you can understand Portuguese, French, or the Flemish Dutch dialect).
It's sometimes a crazy mix of stuff, as when the horns kick out the theme to Bonanza over a churning rhythm during "Tahina," which also features call-and-response chanting vocals between Cila do Côco and the background singers before the energy level is ratcheted up to near punk levels fueled by Bovée's one-chord maximally distorted guitar roar. A highlight perhaps just for overall strangeness is "Samba Belga," with a spooky intro featuring what sounds like Bovée blathering something or other over a distorted loudspeaker in the distance as ghostly keys float through the mix -- an insistent rhythm kicks in along with a guitar lick poised halfway between Dick Dale surf and Hugh Hopper fuzzed-out avant jazz-rock, soon joined by some dramatic and genuinely heavy horns. Then a vocal chorus enters that under normal circumstances would seem aimed at capturing a sensuous Jobim-type vibe, but with everything else going on in the track, the result is bit more ominous-sounding than your typical day at the beach. Also noteworthy is the instrumental track "Maracatu Misterioso," similar in tone to "Samba Belga" but entirely dispensing with any attempted lightness whatsoever in favor of powerful horn charts (played by half the members of the Flat Earth Society big band) and metal-edged guitar over the pounding rhythm, seasoned with washes of electronic effects and Bovée's occasional 21st century schizoid Flemish. ("Maracatu Misterioso" here is positively brain-melting in comparison to the tune as it first appeared on Chuva em Pó, as a groove-based vehicle for guest musician Pupilo's berimbau.)
Tráfico nicely balances such heaviosity with tracks that are relatively concise and accessibly tuneful, imbued with warm Brazilian and Caribbean flavors ranging from cavalo marinho to reggae and sometimes prominently featuring Cila do Côco (in her mid-sixties at the time of this recording), whose sandpapery yet somewhat childlike vocals are as cute as a chain-smoking toddler. It all comes together most seamlessly on a track like "Caração de Papel" (Paper Heart), which combines the chanting and rhythms derived from the region's Afro-Brazilian côco work songs with a bass/keys/guitar foundation somewhat reminiscent of "Birdland"-era Weather Report. Tráfico is a fine album, beautifully recorded and performed, often surprising and sometimes even compelling, although it occasionally seems like the usual Think of One ragged street brass band feel of earlier releases, including Chuva em Pó, has been polished and smoothed out somewhat in favor of a more pop-friendly approach. Previous Think of One albums are apparently slated for release in the U.S. -- Tráfico is a good one but be sure to check out Chuva em Pó if it ever becomes available in your neighborhood.