Minta & the Brook Trout - Olympia
Record Label - Optimus
Release Date - September 17, 2012
On the American side of the world (that's North and South, people) our knowledge of Portugese language music is generally limited to Tropicalia, that psychedelic flowering of folky tunes from Brazil, popularized by Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes and others. And while Minta & the Brook Trout don't sing in Portugese, they are from Portugal and steeped in a more arcane Portugese musical form, the fado. Going to Lisbon, it's not difficult to find places to hear fado. It practically rings out of the windows in the Alfalma. The yearning, mournful lyrics are at once a kind of musical allusion to the sort of melancholia Fernando Pessoa made famous in the startlingly unsettled The Book of Disquiet as well as a sort of show for renowned singers like Amalia Rodrigues, the Queen of the fado. If there is a place that Portugal seems to hold in the consciousness, it's a sort of mournful vision of a lost empire, as Cees Nooteboom renders so beautifully in his novel The Following Story. So it seems only natural that a band like Minta & the Brook Trout would emerge from the streets of Lisbon with their glorious melodic tracks which seem to stop time as they move out from your speakers.
At first glance the group's whimsical instrumentation might make you recall early Joanna Newsom or Coco Rosie's first few records. In fact, the beguiling childishness melts away as the record continues, unveiling an unsettling adult world, lovingly sung by Francisca “Minta” Cortesão. "Eggshells" the lilting, fragile opener descends in to a self-destructive muted rage by the end with "Let's tear our home to pieces / Let's make the neighbors call the police." Francisca, the group's primary songwriter, never seems to get too far out in front of her counterparts in the band, Mariana Ricardo (bass and uke), Manuel Dordio (electric guitar and lap steel) and Nuno Pessoa (drums and percussion). On Olympia, Minta mines gold out of scenes of relational disharmony. "Future Me" features the well-trod road of dividing possessions and doubt about the future with its chorus "which of the sheets in the closet are yours? / which of the napkins in the drawers are yours? / which of the glasses in the cupboard are yours?" before the gentle plea "come on and stay." On this track as well as many of the others on Olympia, the band's second full-length, the power of the song comes from the juxtaposition of difficult and tumultuous circumstances with playful music and lyrics delivered with harmonic deadpan.
While the wistful mourning of fado seems to influence the tone of Minta's record, the band is just as steeped in American styles of music. If I hadn't pointed out that the band was from Portugal or if you hadn't wondered what the tilde was doing over the a in "Cortesão," there'd probably be little which geographically separated this band from many others we cover on this site. "Family" is in a bluegrassy vein with harmonies offset by a pensive electric guitar line. This track also showcases the poignant lyrical acumen of the band (all this stuff is in English, by the way): "the vilest thing about family / is that they own your heart for life / they can make it hurt and make it bleed / and they don't even have to try." The subtle dulcet tones of the album work against the bravado of fado. Here the melancholia is so deep set that the album rarely seems sad, only well-worn and drawn from deep well-springs.
The standout track on the album is "Devil We Know," Minta's version of a pop song, slipped into the middle of a slow rumination. As the track begins a ponderous riff it becomes adorned with keyboard accents, all before a lapsteel leads us into the expansive chorus, where the instruments seem to grow beyond their means as Cortesão sings -- "you’ll tell me that you like my new shirt / i’ll tell you that i love your new shoes / i’ll let you know it’s so good to see you /you’ll let it slip you found someone new." It's one of the most glorious moments of music this year. When the end hits, with a heartfelt moment which eschews sentimentality by virtue of delivery and musicality, it's passed by almost too quickly for you to grasp. This is Minta & the Brook Trout's real gift -- giving the listener beautiful music ripe with the kind of emotionality which seems to slip easily between one's fingers. As "From the Ground" reminds us: "all the love you once felt, all the love that was gone / it comes up from the ground just to haunt you." This is true melancholia, a pervasive sense of self-realized nostalgia which comes from what we lack. It's Minta & the Brook Trout's native tongue.
You can listen to the whole album here:
And as crazy as it may sound, download it for free from Optimus along with Minta & the Brook Trout's other releases. Visit here.