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As Mercenarias - Beginning of the End of the World

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Artist: As Mercenarias

Album: Beginning of the End of the World

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Nov. 30, 2005

Brazilian music has often incorporated international stylistic developments, but rarely has it merely imitated. Bob Marley was imported and channeled through Olodun’s reggae-samba, the Beatles’ wispy psychedelia was appropriated in Gilberto Gil’s tropicalia, and most recently, the favelas of Rio have mutated 2 Live Crew’s booty-bass into baile funk. New genres have been formed, and while traditionalist contemporaries may deride the results, the music created is distinctly Brazilian.

So what happens when Brazilians get a hold of Wire records? Apparently not much. Brazilian post-punk received two compilation treatments this year, one through Soul Jazz’s The Sexual Life of Savages, the other Man Records’ Não Wave. Both were filled out with solid songs, but devoid of the polyrhythmic Brazil-beat. The scene gets more extensive, artist-specific treatment with Soul Jazz’s As Mercenárias anthology, The Beginning of the End of the World. An all-female endeavor that stands as one of the chief progenitors of the Brazilian Não Wave, As Mercenárias borrow heavily, and capably, from their Anglophone forbearers in creating their blueprint.

Starting a post-punk band in 1982, there’s already a formula in place, and As Mercenárias certainly weren’t unaware of it. The able, but forgettable, punk-by-numbers outbursts like “Paníco” and “Santa Igreja” are the most glaring imitations – both candidates for a Bloodstains Across Brazil compilation. Throughout their repertoire, the bass stays in tired deep-sea territory, and while that helps As Mercenárias avoid the worn-out bass-as-melody employed by some of their contemporaries, the unvarying goth-rock low-end is just replacing one cliché with another. Often overlaying the bass are ho-hum angular guitars, which fall flat in the wake of ejaculatory post-punk revisitation. Exposing Não Wave as more of a movement than a distinct genre, As Mercenárias, if it weren’t for craft, would be falling into reissue obscurity.

As much of a disappointment this may be to jaded English-speakers who are looking for exotic infusion, As Mercenárias are more proficient than most of their second-chance peers. “Imagem” evokes the cyborg-balladry of Wire, replete with the out-of-nowhere and teasingly brief spurts of melody. When As Mercenárias wisely decide to bring the funk, the rhythm-heavy music traditions of Brazil show their influence. It’s not often that the band plays the role of the Brazilian ESG that Soul Jazz purports them to occupy, but when mutant disco seeps its way into songs like “Trashland,” the scratchy bounce is well executed. And despite all previous consternation, “Loucos Sentimentos” does indeed incorporate latin-beat, albeit punctuated with ill-advised two-tone punk hops.

As Mercenárias perceived imitation is not a unidirectional exchange. It may be easy to see Não Wave acts as mere Portuguese language versions of your favorite new wavers, but that would ignore the influence of non-Western music on those original innovators. Post-punk, as far as esoteric pop music goes, may be the best attempt at a musical summit between white art-rock intellectuals and the third world. As Mercenárias aren’t just tardy wannabes, but rather, as Brazil’s representatives, a part of the same process. The Beginning of the End of the World shows there are two different paths to the same destination.

By Bob Hammond

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