For better or worse, most people have a COVID 19 story and that goes for the four young musicians at the centre of new Brazilian band Bala Desejo. Pre the world coming to a halt Dora Morelenbaum and Julia Mestre were building reputations as singer songwriters while guitarist Lucas Nunes and keys-player Jose (Ze) Ibarra were working their way with Donica into the indie rock enclave. However the quartet weren’t strangers with connections stretching back to their school days and sustained through the crossed paths of the Rio music scene. So when lockdown happened they decided to quarantine together in a Copacabana apartment. That’s where the idea of a band began and soon Bala Desejo were streaming live plus getting attention from producer Gabriel Andrade at Coala Records.
Maybe the group didn’t know it but this marked the first tentative steps towards the recording of their debut album ‘SIM SIM SIM’ which now gets wider release through the ever in-tune Mr Bongo records. Although Bala Desejo were unlikely to remain a localised secret for long having scooped a Latin Grammy in 2022, it’s fitting that a label of cred and discernment should be the vehicle to spread the band’s word. Make no mistake this is slickly produced, unashamedly commercial music but it has luscious, intoxicating qualities that make the album special.
All the key components are here, the infectious samba momentum, the vocal dynamism, the melodramatic orchestration, the psychedelic fluidity and the folk to fuzz guitaring. Throw in the frequent avant ruffling and a tropicalian embrace of whatever style you need and ‘SIM SIM SIM’ comes with all the necessary guarantees. It starts with the context, snippets of café conversation and a passing carnival band which locate the songs in the city, before Baile De Máscaras (Recarnaval) sets out the ‘SIM SIM SIM’ stall. This is driving samba jazz pepped up with a crisp sixties pop panache and animated orchestration on a film score scale. The song swings whole-heartedly, Morelebaum and Mestre’s twin toned vocals to the fore, flighty, confident and sassy as the horns throw back their phrases. Vibrant, fresh and energetic, this opening strut won’t fail to turn heads.
Neither is such ambition a one-off, the cinematic arrangements appear central to the Bala Desejo soundtrack. The sunset soul of Muito So, all sultry voiced and swooning, features sighing horn lines and romantic strings that nod to MOR but somehow avoid the schmaltz. Then there’s the shimmering disco romp of Lambe Lambe. Don’t be fooled by the gentle guitar plucked intro, the song has genuine locomotion from the vamping horns to the pop rock, Abba-esque hook and glistens with sonic detail. If you dig into the sleeve notes you find out that Dora’s dad Jaques Morelenbaum, who’s worked with Tom Jobin, Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa, has been involved with the arrangements. There’s a sense that such creative integrity has obviously not been lost on the band.
But many more sides to Bala Desejo’s music get revealed on ‘SIM SIM SIM’, especially when the quartet themselves become more of a focus and sounds sharpen around the group. Clama Floresta swaggers along to slinky skank, a slice of agile pop reggae where Mestre and Morelebaum’s vocal personalities shine and Manu Chao flavours filter through. A silky folk jazz vibe breezes in with Dourado Dourado as it swirls from a classic Brazil pop chorus to an irresistibly upbeat bossa shimmy. Then there’s Passarinha’s glide along the seductive samba pathway with its nimble rhythms and purring vocals. Such consistent quality song-writing, generally handled collaboratively by the quartet, binds all the Bala Desejo dimensions together to give the album its individual sparkle. This is the finest pop from whatever direction you are looking at it.
To tamp down any over-excitement ‘SIM SIM SIM’ smoothly shifts the dynamic at times, drifting towards the more reflective. The only cover version on the album, Nana Del Caballo Grande brings a plaintive pause as the raw emotions unfold in the faithfully simple arrangement. Written by Sergio Aschero of Los Juglares for their 1973 tribute to Lorca the Spanish literary radical, Bala Desejo’s revision brings honest harmonies, vocal restraint and counterpoint flute without losing any of the original’s intention. The track still quivers. Album closer Cronografia (O Peixe) may be more filmic in scale but its yearning melody achieves a similar spiritual feel, cloaked in sweeping strings and dramatic descending vocal repeat. It adds to the notion that this group can stretch way beyond the pizazz and party.
Bala Desejo’s ‘SIM SIM SIM’ is one of those albums so packed with ideas and musical finery that the result might have felt over-blown but that’s not the case here. Yes its audacious but the foursome are clear about their purpose and the impact they are looking for. You only have to listen to the stunning progression of Nesse Sofá, rising on a wave of gospel blues until a squalling guitar break pierces through, to recognise that this is a band, one album in, that can already hit those unexplainable peaks of perfection. Where Bala Desejo go from here is anyone’s guess but for now SIM SIM SIM singles them out as significant players in the future of Música Popular Brasileira.
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