It’s been over six years since Bebel Gilberto released an album, and in that time the Brazilian has undergone her fair share of tragedies. Her best friend died of a heart attack, which was closely followed by the passing of her mother from lung cancer, and then the death of her father – legendary bossa nova musician João Gilberto – last year.
Although the majority of the album was recorded before her parents’ death, these events seem to inform each song. Maybe it’s the times we’re currently living in, but much of Agora feels like an exploration of grief – not in a maudlin manner, but in an understanding, healing way.
Agora is sung almost entirely sung in her native Portuguese, but you don’t need to be multilingual to connect with Gilberto’s work. The most obviously personal song on the record is O Que Não Foi Dito, which Gilberto wrote for her father in the last couple of months of his life. The title translates as ‘What Wasn’t Said’, and is about the role-reversal of looking after your parents during their later life. Like the rest of the album, it’s tasteful, thoughtful and never maudlin.
So although most of Agora will feel blissfully familiar to Gilberto’s long-term fans, there’s a few surprises to be found as well. The title track has some clattering percussion and an eerie feel that sometimes sounds (melodically at least) like Tricky’s earliest work. Although there’s not many pure ‘pop’ moments to be heard, Na Cara (a duet with fellow Brazilian Mart’nália) has a gorgeous swing to it, and Raio’s infectious beat stays in the mind long after it’s played.
There’s also an arch sense of humour on display – the only time that Gilberto reverts to English is to title one song Yet Another Love Song, acknowledging the surplus of said love songs as she sings yet another one. Cliché treads similar ground, looking at the problems of writing songs while avoiding lapsing into clichés.
Thomas Bartlett’s production is about a million miles away from his work with Sufjan Stevens and St Vincent, although sometimes that same intense nervous energy that the latter displays so well can be heard. Yet he makes a good foil for Gilberto, adding in some subtle electronica touches while keeping her essence intact.
There’s no real new ground being broken on Agora, but it does make a good entry point if you’ve not been acquainted with Gilberto’s music before. While it does sometimes threaten to cross that fine line between low-key tastefulness and aural wallpaper, there are enough delightful little touches – the ghostly piano on the end of Teletransportador, for example – to mark this as a welcome return.