Album Reviews

The Soundscapes – Freestyle Family

(BNS Sessions) UK release date: 18 May 2009

The Soundscapes - Freestyle Family The Soundscapes are Raphael and Rodrigo Carvalho, two brothers from Brazil who have descended on the musical production line that is New York City. An attempt to fast-track their bid to “plate up” their shoegaze-centric output to be devoured by the salivating masses? Very possibly.

Such is the propensity for bands to move to New York of late that the city must be a sea of leather, pasty skin, and bad haircuts. Want to be taken seriously as a band? Move to New York! It’s a curious state of affairs, and one that sees today’s obsequious music press munificent with props to seemingly every band spewed from NYC’s very rock ‘n’ roll mouth.

Whatever the motivation for their exodus from Brazil, the Carvalho brothers are taking a leap of faith and trying to sculpt a career from the music they’ve been playing together since they were children. Freestyle Family is their debut album – eleven tracks of hard-hitting and unflinchingly precise drumming, and inventive, jarring guitar arrangements that evidence two very talented musicians.

That the brothers have been playing music together since they were young is manifested in very tight arrangements, but that alone is not sufficient to make The Soundscapes greater than the sum of their parts. Yes, they are comprised of two, individually, very talented musicians – but the songwriting too often seems haggard and formulaic, uninventive and bland.

That much is obvious from the opening two tracks – Here’s When, and Tides Of Time – which are way too similar to appear with such propinquity. Which is unfortunate, because Tides Of Time is a belting helter-skelter of a song, where an unleashed guitar wreaks feral havoc as Rodrigo attempts to tighten the reigns of control with an ice-cool, dreamy vocal delivery.

The National-esque stature of Son Of The Future is a prominent highlight, as is the modish swagger of Lion’s Dream, and cast The Soundscapes as major players on the shoegaze revival scene. But the filler in between the highlights is both too frequent, and unvaried. The annoyingly formulaic pop of Back To Life and (We’re All Made Of) Star Stuff, the relentless bland motifs of She’s Gone – too often the guitar sounds the same on this album, with the result of lessening the impact of the truly attractive guitar parts.

Rodrigo’s vocal style sets its trajectory at the kind of dreamy effortlessness that characterises the shoegaze genre. When it works, it’s brilliant – see Tides Of Time and Son Of The Future. But often, it just sounds discordant and tepid, and gives the impression of a frontman emotionally dissevered from his musical output. Where’s the passion?

Lyrically too he is somewhat wayward – “You and I will have our time, now it’s time for you and I” unearths a weird linguistic fetish for pronouns, while the sickeningly pretentious “You’re good and we’re good and they’re good/And everybody’s getting together/Tonight we’ll dance and sing” does little to dispel such pronoun-humping fears while delivering the kind of camp twee-pop sentiment that stokes a very real anger. But then again, can you speak Brazilian?

The Soundscapes, however, save the best ’til (nearly) last – and the penultimate Nothing Too Late is arguably the album’s strongest point. Built around an elegant guitar line that shimmers with a pop accessibility burnished with an addictively macabre intent, its interwoven melodies doff their hat to The Stone Roses and unveil a much welcomed sinister side to The Soundscapes.

But generally the album’s content is too similar, and not varied enough to garner any significant praise. It’s ironic that an album with “Freestyle” in its title is so devoid of genuine creativity. It’s a tentative debut, but one that evidences a band who with added drama and texture to their sound will be a very attractive proposition.

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The Soundscapes – Freestyle Family