1965: São Paulo, Brazil. Brothers Arnaldo and Sérgio Dias Baptista, having grown up listening to English radio broadcasts via shortwave radio, form a band under the influence of those recently-crowned kings of global popular-culture: The Beatles. Rebelling against the right-wing military dictatorship that had seized power in Brazil, the Baptista brothers make music mixing internationalist influence, libertarian beliefs, and political critique. In 1968, the same year their Tropicalista peers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are jailed by the military regime, Os Mutantes release their self-titled debut album; a record of hyper-modernist, genre-juggling, futurist pop that, still, sounds all those things to this day.
Whilst the history-lesson is important, you don't need to know any of it to enjoy Os Mutantes. A riotous, freakadelic fusion of culture and genre, high-brow and low-brow, pop-song and experimentalism, the album is as ridiculous as it is radical, as theatrical as it is musical. Inspired by the Beatles' use of the studio as an experimental tool, the LP finds Os Mutantes getting up to all manner of monkeyshines: overdriven guitars washing out a song with their electrified distortion, false endings fading in and out at random, traditional Afro-Portuguese rhythms broken down, deconstructed, and brought back to Frankenstein-ish life.
The Divine Comedy
Befitting literature's greatest-ever symbolic monster, Os Mutantes is a work of mismatched parts, stitched together, and zapped to frightening life via the powerful unreality of the recording studio. The band butchers up the Beatles and Batucada, The Mamas and The Papas and modern classical, psychedelia and sound-art. It's an explosion of cascading color, a succession of musical fireworks whose jagged patterns and whimsical zephyrs never fade, never grow dim.
Over four decades on, and it's clear that Os Mutantes' radical futurism, ironic sensibility, gentle experimentation, and global worldview was light-years ahead of its time. In those subsequent years, an ever-growing litany of artists out to explode the restrictions of genre —Talking Heads, The Flaming Lips, Beck, Of Montreal, Stereolab— have cited this album as an influence.
After being almost entirely unknown outside of Brazil for the first 30 years of its existence, Os Mutantes has now reached a strange canonical place: becoming one of the building blocks of any self-respecting alternative-minded record collection. Idiosyncratic, ironic, impossibly cool, wildly enjoyable, and defiantly rabble-rousing, it's required listening for anyone with any interest in pop music's outer limits and/or long-lost history.
Record Label: Polydor
Release Date: June 1968