Tuesday 7 May 2024

Elemento 26 - Labirintos de Zan (2024)

Country: Brazil
Style: Psychedelic Pop/Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2024
Sites: Instagram | YouTube

Here's another unusual album from Brazil, which seems to be bursting at the seams with unusual albums lately. Elemento 26 play a brand of psychedelic rock that's rooted in classic pop music. The guitars on the opener, Fotossíntese, are occasionally powerful, in a seventies rock sense, but the overall feel is lighter and the backing vocal is very light indeed, taking us back to the late sixties. It's also patient, reminding of Pink Floyd on the boundary between their psychedelic pop era with Syd Barrett and their seventies prog rock era with deeper and more expansive musical journeys.

Nothing here gets particularly expansive in that sense, only two tracks exceeding four and a half minutes and the longest of them wrapping up well before eight. However, Clorofila, the shorter of those two at under six, firmly moves into jam band territory. That's hardly surprising for psych but it's far more applicable to rock than pop, its gentle verses and folky backing vocals giving way in a loose second half to instrumentation exploration, two guitars and the bass all soloing together.

The other angle that's unmistakable is the ethnic angle, because Elemento 26 are Brazilian and a folky edge means something very different to the folk music that fed psychedelic bands in the UK or US. There's some of this from the very outset here, but it becomes obvious on Paranoia, which has a Latin sway to the verses that could well be samba to my uneducated ears. It starts slow and gradually speeds up, but it's clearly Brazilian. There's also a lot going on in the background, but I can't swear to what. Are those backing vocals, jungle ambience or a distant calliope. It's almost a carnival song. Casulo dips deeply into this ethnic history too, even if a prominent guitar presides over all of it.

Just in case that all solidifies an idea of what Elemento 26 sound like, there's more here that will deepen that considerably. There's a garage band simplicity to Planador. There's rich orchestration in Farol. There's a funky bass to kick off Borboleta and then jangly guitars which are just the start to a highly versatile song that goes all over the musical map. There's space rock to kick off Verde-do-Mar. It's almost like Elemento 26 don't want to be tied down to any particular genre, beyond a general one of psychedelia. It's hard to even situate them on one side of the dividing line between pop and rock, because they happily work on both, even if they stay on the rock side far longer.

I like this but I'm not sure, even after half a dozen listens, that I've truly figured out who Elemento 26 are. This may well be their debut album and it makes sense to be agreeably versatile, but I'd be struggling if I suggested what their follow-up might sound like. There are so many directions that this band could take with equal validity that I'd be very wary about suggesting one. And that does bring me back to Pink Floyd again, because who, after listening to The Piper at the Gates of Dawn could have predicted Ummagumma, let alone The Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall?

If you twisted my arm, I might suggest that they're at their best when evolving from quirky poppy melodies into longer instrumental sections. I don't know who's in the band, so I can't call anyone out for specific praise, but it's the guitars that do the most for me here. They're relatively simple during verses, for the most part, but they're highly varied in instrumental sections. There are an array of guitar solos that stand out to me, enough that it's hard to pick which work the best, but I might have to call out parts of Casulo as the best, starting with its very beginning and continuing in the second half, but also parts of Casulo as the worst, namely the plodding during verses.

And I have a similar problem trying to figure out my favourite tracks. I feel like the highlight ought to be Borboleta, because it certainly does the most in its seven and a half minutes, but I'm unsold on all its changes. It doesn't feel like it's quite figured out what it wants to be yet, rather like the band who recorded it. Every time through, I find that I prefer Verde-do-Mar, wrapping things up in its wake, because it nails its grooves, but it's a far less substantial piece and it has to end in a spot that links right back to Fotossíntese to loop the album.

The problem is, if the highlight isn't Borboleta, what is it? I might have to plump for Clorofila, the other slightly long song, because it's far more coherent, even as a jam song. Certainly it features the most guitarwork and thus plenty of the best guitarwork. However, Paranoia is truly infectious and I keep coming back to Casulo and Farol too, which feature plenty of elegance. It'll all depend on where they go from here, as the next album could make these songs outliers in their catalogue or the beginning of what they do. I for one am eager to find out.

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