PRINT March 1998


Arto Lindsay

Time stands still for no artist, so to compare ARTO LINDSAY’s new record Mundo Civilizado (Bar None) to his work twenty years ago might seem unproductive if not banal. Yet in Lindsay’s case, the evolution is fascinating: he seems to have changed species altogether. In his ca. 1980 trio DNA, Lindsay tortured and influential guitar corruptions were dubbed “skronk” by critic Robert Christgau in an inspired onomatopoeia; his vocalizations emulated those of Jimi Hendrix at the moment of his death. Now, on Mundo Civilizado, the m.o. is an enthrallingly sexy balladry influenced by samba, Gilberto Gil, the Beatles, and Prince.

Lindsay had earlier incorporated the music of Brazil, where he was raised, into his repertoire with the Ambitious Lovers, with mixed success. Mundo Civilizado drops the vestiges of skronk altogether for a graceful update of ’60s Tropicalismo, stripping it down and giving it just a hint of ambient spin, with DJ Spooky and Mutamassik contributing subtle “additional textures.” Lindsay leaves guitar duties to Vinicius Cantuaria, whose spare acoustic picking and dissonant chordings resonate against the busy percussion. And that’s about it for instrumentation. An organ here, a horn there, and a lot of space for deftly formed songs and more-or-less heartfelt crooning.

The elegant sensualism of bossa nova carries off the more purplish poesy with aplomb; a lyricist’s lyricist, Lindsay enunciates so clearly you hardly need the booklet (though you will need to brush up on your Portuguese). He serenades a dancer, “What does that gesture mean back where you came from/When you shift tempos could you take me along/How do you shake just that and not shake all the rest/Breaking all those beats up you careless hypnotist.” That outsider stance is pure rhetoric: maybe he can’t dance, but these rhythms are in his bones.

Lindsay is one of many avant-gardians looking to move past the limitations of free improvisation and noise-pour-noise. John Zorn with his klezmer-themed chamber music, Bill Frisell’s Nashville stylings, and Marc Ribot’s homage to Cuban son master Arsenio Rodriguez all embrace pop forms in their efforts to reconcile the experimentalist’s demand for freedom and the songwriter’s need for structure. For Lindsay, Brazil’s incredibly rich trove of musical culture offers not only inspiration but a virtual second career. Incredibly, he returns the favor.