Pig Soul - Chorume Da Alma

One of my favorite musical traditions is the Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement, now in its fourth decade of gifting the world with music that artfully integrates multiple musical traditions with an awareness of the complex social fabric of our increasingly interconnected world. While the first wave of RIO bands is sometimes considered the only wave of "true cvlt RIO," having explicitly signed onto collective tenants of virtuosity in composition and performance integrated with extramusical activities and "a social commitment to Rock," many bands have continued to embrace the approach into contemporary music and times. Among the newest and most exciting of these is Brazil's Pig Soul, whose first album, "Chorume Da Alma," recently arrived at my doorstep.

Pig Soul is a 4-piece instrumental combo whose members are all music grads of Brazil's UNICAMP. They're all fantastic technicians on their respective rock instruments (guitar, bass, drums, keys), and they're apparently collaborating compositionally, as songwriting credits are shared among the whole band on their debut disc. Guitarist Brita also contributes a few well-placed passages on trombone.

While it's clear that these guys can really play, the emphasis here is truly on composition. This project could turn into a mindless shredfest in lesser hands, but Pig Soul keep their focus on creative writing and energetic ensemble-based performance. There are virtuosic "take a solo" moments on occasion, but they only happen when the music demands them, and even then they incorporate frequent compositional turns that draw listeners' attention to whole-ensemble interplay.

Like many bands that take an RIO-influenced approach, it's difficult to describe this music in genre-specific terms, because it incorporates many styles and approaches in fluid, constantly evolving ways. I probably listen to RIO-influenced music more than any other style, yet succinct characterizations of records like this remain elusive. In the case of Pig Soul, one can point to a few compositional tendencies that characterize their approach: playful, shifting rhythms, blends of 70s jazz/rock fusion, melodic jazz, and Meshuggah-like metal chugging, and frequent juxtapositions of repeated ostinato figures, which often get recontextualized in a number of rhythmic, harmonic, and timbral settings, teased into musical corners and re-released as unison figures into the whole ensemble. While that still doesn't capture their essence, I think it's fair to say that if you like some of the harder-hitting Cuneiform bands like Doctor Nerve or Cheer-Accident, you will be delighted with Pig Soul.

"Chorume Da Alma" is broken into 10 tracks, but it's really a 33 minute through-composed suite with track breaks for the sake of convenience. The album begins with an aptly-titled "Intro (11)6142212X," in which sounds slowly drift within earshot, starting with bass rumbles covered in gentle delays. Piano and percussion add pointillistic flourishes and cymbal scrapes to the atmosphere. When guitar enters the mix, the band builds to a huge crescendo that shifts from a noisy mass toward a tonal center. Then we get some unison stop-time chugging, followed by another crescendo and more stop-time. But this stop-time section is a melodic and rhythmic exploration: the band plays with segments of a motif which becomes the main melody for the title track. At the other end of the album, the closing track, "Taking Waves," is a long repeated loop, edited just a comma out of common time, that repeats a little ii-V turnaround on a gentle jazz/bossa texture. It goes on for about five minutes looping the same couple of seconds, like a locked groove in a record.

Between the bookends formed by this intro and outro, there is relatively more stylistic consistency in the middle sections of the album formed by the constant presence of structured percussion. Drummer Gigante makes many stylistic leaps and shifts throughout the record, but his playing also serves as an anchor, making sure that these occasionally wild forms always have a clear rhythmic delineation. Even when he gets playful, sometimes moving the beat around while others play a repeating figure, he does so after firmly establishing where the beat is "supposed" to be. Like the rest of the music, his parts sound mostly composed, though played with plenty of style and vigor. And I don't mean to imply that he's playing non-stop riffs through most of the music--Pig Soul is a band that uses a wide dynamic range, and he's also good at finding the perfect cymbals to tease through the frequent soft passages that punctuate this music.

The bass and keyboard work of Boni and Chicao, respectively, are in many ways the most flexible parts of the Pig Soul sound. Both players have complex roles in these compositions that can take them from ambiance/pad duties, to complex rhythmic stabs, to more traditional rhythmic/harmonic parts, to lead melodic roles, very quickly. I'm especially impressed by how much of a role the bass gets in the more ambient, sound-sculpture sections, which are dominated by guitars in many bands. When unison parts are tossed around the band, it's nice to hear how the bass and piano work together, too: in "Wa A Api Vini," for example, a melodic sequence is dissected in various ways by the band, but it's introduced with prominent bass and rhodes piano sounds before the guitars and higher piano octaves are introduced.

A guitar player myself, I'm especially impressed with the guitar work of Brita. He's a very tasteful player when the music requires it, and plays creative parts with great precision and sound choices, but he has a secret weapon I wish more guitar players would consider when it's time to get crazy: a whammy pedal! Rather than an occasional effect to yank random notes up and down, Brita uses his primarily as an octave displacement device for whole passages, to put melodic ideas into a distorted, abrasive stratospherically high range. I love it, maybe partially because I use a similar sound approach, and I wish more people did. But it sounds great, bringing a whole new contemporary vibe to the solo at the end of the Mahavishnu and Os Mutantes-influenced psych-fusion of the title track. I suspect I can even identify the digital effects Brita uses, hearing some other multi-effected sounds toward the end of "Romanza," or the long, bouncing delays in the melody of "L'Amour:" is it a Digitech RP series, maybe an RP10 or RP12? I've spent many hours tweaking similar sounds in one of those boxes. Anyway, Brita is a great player with an ear for good sounds, from clean to crunch.

In all, this is a great debut, and I'm excited for what comes next. As far as embracing social aspects of the RIO movement, the distribution of this recording on CD uses a proprietary Brazilian technology called Semi Metallic Disc (SMD), which is intended both to lower duplication costs for bands as well as lower sale prices of music to fans. This disc, for example, lists for R$5,00, which is around $2.75 USD. They look cool, too, with a clear plastic edge around the disc, housed in a kind of paper box I've never seen before. The idea of SMD discs has some positive implications for bands trying to control some distribution and promotion of their own music--shlepping mp3s around is fine, but a disc like this provides opportunity for including some visual design and art elements, as well as more information in liner notes than one can really put into mp3 metadata. And the recording can circulate as a normal CD with full audio fidelity. For an album so detailed and complex as this, being able to hear the full-fi mix brings out every beautiful nuance in the music. But if you're prohibitively far away and you want to track down a copy of this album, you can contact the band for information on ordering at their Facebook page, see some videos of them on their YouTube channel, or hear the music at their soundcloud page.

--first published at Killed in Cars

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