In the music industry, second chances are like flying saucers, so rarely seen that they beg the question “Do they really exist?” And yet, on very rare occasions, a once-promising musician or group, seemingly vanished, will resurface, bigger than ever. Before British folk singer Vashti Bunyan became matriarch to the “New Weird America” musicians, she struggled as an unsuccessful songwriter in the ’60s and took 35 years to release her second album. Os Mutantes has a similar story: The Brazilian psych-pop band is just now gaining significant recognition 40 years after it formed.
Os Mutantes (Portuguese for “the mutants”), a fixture of the Brazilian Tropicália movement, played alongside such South American legends as Gilberto Gil and was known for its unusual Latin-flavored psychedelic pop. David Byrne, lead singer of the Talking Heads and a champion of world music, counts the South Americans among his many influences — as does Beck and as did the late Kurt Cobain. In 1999, Byrne’s Luaka Bop Records released a compilation of the trio’s work, Everything Is Possible: The Best of Os Mutantes.
When brothers Sérgio and Arnaldo Baptista and drummer Ronaldo Leme reunited for a show in London on May 22, the performance came with a disclaimer: Os Mutantes was back for one night only. But folks went nuts for the Brazilians, and the band’s now on tour, playing multiple cities, along with today’s crème de la crème of psychedelic pop, the Flaming Lips. Os Mutantes captured the headlining spot at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival on July 30 in Union Park, following Spoon and Yo La Tengo onstage. That’s one hell of a flying saucer.
When the band formed, in the late ’60s, they broke with Brazilian pop-music tradition by using electric instruments, and they took their cues from the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, giving Western rock & roll a distinctly Latin twist. It worked.
“Ando Meio Desligado,” the first track on Everything Is Possible, is a good example of the group’s distinctive style, beginning with breathy vocals and a slow-motion chorus that bleeds into a guitar solo in the style of Jimi Hendrix. The only English-language track on the album, “Baby,” incorporates the coy vocals of the group’s former lead singer, Rita Lee, over a breezy acoustic-guitar line. The album sounds as fresh and accessible today as it did in ’60s Brazil. There’s nothing like it on the planet.
This is the kind of reunion tour Vinyl Static could get used to.