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Mosquitos - Sunshine Barato

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Artist: Mosquitos

Album: Sunshine Barato

Label: Bar-None

Review date: Nov. 11, 2004

On Sunshine Barato, the Mosquitos perform their work with a quiet intensity and an eerie precision, a phrase that would otherwise best be reserved for serial killers and the new military. Two questions pop up, however, after repeated listens: How much do you have to love the sound you make, and how much do you have to believe in what you’re saying, to work this hard to get it right?

Set to a post-Jobim beat, this is the sound of three misfits beating all the odds. Whether it’s the impossibly hokey lyrics (“I wanna do a remix of love / bring out the rim shot- gun wedding”), the infectiously reedy vocals of guitarist Chris Root, or the ability of the Mosquitos to craft a breezy, dew-on-the-brow tropical smoothie in the cultural vacuums of Orlando and New Jersey (where this album was recorded, at a dance studio in the latter), Sunshine Barato provokes cynical questions with surprisingly pleasant answers.

Comprised of Root, Brazilian singer Juju Stulbach and multi-instrumentalist Jon Marshall Smith, Mosquitos carry a Pan-American torch, propelled by wispy rhythms that vacillate between retro-bossa (several tracks smack of treated Kimball Fun Machine, the kind found in paneled rec-rooms) and slightly more boisterous, but just as wussy, versions of the beat that qualifies this as rock and roll, as opposed to modern Brazilian music. These may be the anthems of tomorrow’s metrosexual; Root’s timbre and delivery betray little if any of the insecurity one would expect to accompany such vocal frailty, but perhaps it points to the Mosquitos’ firm South American footing. American men of the generation mostly likely to adopt Mosquitos haven’t been allowed to listen to, let alone respect, a voice so freely feminine since Geddy Lee. Arto Lindsay has tried and, on a smaller scale, has perhaps succeeded in getting over with the “girly voice,” too, but in its context, Lindsay’s work hovers alternately between the high-minded musical horsemanship of David Byrne’s tropical forays and the upturned irony of Lindsay’s post-DNA experimentation. Root’s delivery is fearless, comfortable enough in his own skin that he simply lets the words out.

Root and Mosquitos are wading far out into the mainstream from their neo-Brazillian corner of the world, and they do so unflinchingly: At no point during Sunshine Barato’s brief 38 minutes does the group sway from its apparent premise that there is never too much love, honesty and optimism packed into a single song, and it’s done as much with the instrumentation as it is with the lyrics. Despite Jon Marshall Smith’s touted status as a “studio whiz,” the group never goes for the easy appeal of canned groove that has pulled artists like Bebel Gilberto into the spotlight – no trip-hop or house-anything here. Mosquitos conquer with a trebly, glistening production sound, adding an almost indescribable dimension to the happy-go-luckiness of the vocal melodies and lyrics, elevating these otherwise “pop” elements to parts of a very original whole. Stulbach’s breathy, controlled voice rides the top of the mix, cutting through nicely whether it’s in Portuguese or English.

When he’s not punning, word-playing and girly-voicing women into bed (or into a “Love Remix”), Root bides his time like a lead guitarist, meticulously matching each song with another trick. On “Flood,” he pushes the song along with a sinewy riff that could’ve slid off the Meat Puppets’ Up On The Sun, but then manages to propel “Avocado” with a sly balance of Zairean soukous and Bakersfield-era Telecaster-ing. On nearly every tune, though, Root eventually pulls back to the signature bouncing, strumming sounds of nylon strings colliding with the beach. Brian Wilson has just taken 40 years to 12-step his oeuvre to completion; perhaps Mosquitos are playing the new surf music.

At it’s worst, Sunshine Barato falls prey to not just the overall silliness of the lyrics, clearly notes from some semi-retarded love affair. but also the excess the group, particularly keyboardist Smith, affords itself. While armchair ethnomusicologists may expect a minimalist approach from what often sounds like a Brazilian context, Mosquitos have so many tricks in their bag, they may just be outgrowing the boat they rowed in on.

By Andy Freivogel

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