Album of the Week: Lupe de Lupe – Vocação (Balaclava Records)

Jair Bolsonaro’s victory against Fernando Haddad in Brazil’s recent presidential election was the latest disappointment for those of us hoping to halt the advance of the far right across the world. Bolsonaro has consistently shown himself to be on the side of those who’ve shown the most blatant disregard for environmental regulations, workers’ rights, and victims of state violence — and that’s before he’s even taken office.

It’s in the light of these current events that we must consider Vocação (Balaclava Records), the long-awaited fifth album from Brazilian experimentalists Lupe de Lupe. Richly textured, lyrically complex, and packing the punch of a sonic avalanche, it’s a collection that makes a passionate argument for life in a political system and cultural landscape that seems increasingly devoted to death.

Vocalist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Vitor Brauer; guitarist Cícero Nogueira; drummer Gustavo Scholz; and vocalist Renan Benini are no strangers to calling out the hypocrisy of their peers and elected officials. As one of the most prolific members of arts collective Geração Perdida de Minas Gerais (“The Lost Generation of Minas Gerais”), the group has gained some measure of notoriety for its fiercely DIY and outspoken oeuvre.

But lead single “O Brasil Quer Mais” (“Brazil Wants More”) is perhaps the group’s most blistering attack yet and one of its most aesthetically ambitious. A mini-epic in three parts, the track pairs buzzsawing post-punk guitars with Vitor’s venomous lyrics, calling out narrow-minded ideologues on both the right and the left whose narrow definitions of sexism, racism, and violence address symptoms rather than the disease.

As a non-Portuguese-speaking listener, this rich lyricism is only accessible thanks to the help of Google Translate. Without this knowledge, though, Vocação still impresses on a technical level. The band’s artful take on the noisier side of indie rock fits comfortably alongside stalwarts like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and My Bloody Valentine, most notably during “Esqueletos” (“Skeletons”) or the carnivalesque grunge-gaze of “Vejo Uma Lua No Céu” (“I See a Moon in the Sky”).

The album’s climax comes in the penultimate track, “Voz” (“Voice”), which unspools over more than 14 anxious minutes that builds from a calming piano intro to a full-force reverb-soaked attack. Again, though, the lyrics provide the depth that makes this album so rewarding and so necessary as Vitor explores the power of voice – in speech, in song, and in the pursuit of justice – if we’re only brave enough to accept it. These days, it’s a responsibility that seems more vital than ever, and I can’t think of a better soundtrack.