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Portastatic



For a decade now, Superchunk frontman and Merge Records label guy Mac McCaughan has used the Portastatic pseudonym to pursue his musical obsessions outside his main gig. Throughout the '90s, McCaughan recorded three records of instrumental experimentalism and cinematic sound-scaping -- with a few bursts of pure indie rock thrown in -- under this alias: I Hope Your Heart Is Not Brittle ('94), Slow Note from a Sinking Ship ('95), and The Nature of Sap ('97).

Somewhere along the line, McCaughan fell in love with Tropicalia. If you have ever been seduced by the sounds of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, or any other playful, inventive members of the Tropicalia movement, you know that it is impossible to get these songs out of your head once they get in. So it was with McCaughan. After visiting Brazil with his "other" band (Superchunk), he decided to pay tribute to some of his favorite Brazilian artists by recording an EP of covers. To make the project even more challenging (and to maintain the songs' original flavor), McCaughan decided to sing the songs in Portuguese, with smatterings of English where appropriate.

While the language shift may come as a surprise to many longtime Portastatic fans, McCaughan's voice retains the shattering earnestness and pleading sincerity that characterize Portastatic's original songs. As one would expect with Portastatic, the music also has a fuzzy lo-fi sheen, imbuing these already-lovely songs with an added layer of endearing fragility. It's different and quite wonderful.

Caetano Veloso's "Baby" is one of the most romantic songs in any language, and here McCaughan underscores its loping rhythm and lovely melody with a panoply of horns and squiggling guitars. "Lamento Sertanejo" ("Country Lament") originally appeared on Gilbert Gil's 1975 album Refazenda. Portastatic imbues it with a sharp poignancy and bristling guitars. McCaughan returns to English for the somber and sorrowful "I Fell in Love One Day," from Os Mutantes' Arnaldo Babtista's 1982 solo album, Singin' Alone. "Não Identificado" is another stunning Veloso song from 1969. And Joyce's shiny happy "Clareana" both rounds out the EP and provides its title: de mel, de melão, which means "of honey, of melon," and in the song it describes the hearts of two young girls.

On his 2001 film soundtrack for the Canadian indie flick Looking for Leonard, McCoughan took his obsession with Brazilian Tropicalia even further, using it to inform the atmospheric, all-instrumental compositions of the score. Pretty organ melodies, Latin guitars, and swishing South American rhythms dominate, evoking feelings of nostalgia and sweet regret, as you'll see from "Stealing Romance" and "Luka's Theme (Shaker Mix)." We present those two tracks and the de mel, de melão EP to you, com acucar, com afeto (with sugar, with affection). Enjoy.