The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves
he post-millennial anything-goes era is dictated by the overwhelming déja-vus of precedent. For most musicians, “sounds like” designations are unavoidable and genre-benders are a dime a dozen. It’s often difficult for female vocalists to find their footing and hold it in place—more than their male counterparts, women are wont to wander around, seek different producers, physically make themselves over, trade music for motherhood, crawl into a cave, or retire in the lap of luxury or bankruptcy, popping back up with Kabbala/a nose job/Timbaland the following fiscal year.
Sao Paolo native and London-raised Cibelle may have saved me from becoming a traitor to my kind, because through the wide-angle lens of her uprooted second album, music-making looks easy. If the quarter-life-crisis ridden songstresses are going to adopt any mantra, it should be, keep it simple. Now, the irony is that an entire brigade of musicians has got Cibelle’s back: Seu Jorge, Devendra Banhart, Tunng’s Mike Lindsay, and Yann Arnaud (Air’s engineer) are recognizable contributors to The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves, and covers of Tom Waits’ “Green Grass” and Caetano Veloso’s “London, London” only add to the album’s collective, diplomatically immune feel. Like Valerie Trebeljahr, Beth Gibbons, and Beth Hirsch, Cibelle gets the spotlight as an elegant vocalist and songwriter raised up on a pedestal by male instrumentalists and producers. The difference is that Cibelle’s helpers are as influential as they are subservient; the album is definitively that of a solo artist in the possession of many talented (male) friends. So toss out pedestal—it’s more of a throne.
Recorded in Brazil, England, and France, Cibelle’s tracks are underwritten, lilting, and relaxing in drawn out keyboard notes, guitar plucks, and sprinklings of rhythmically ambiguous glockenspiels and light percussion, as on the quiet “Por Toda a Minha Vida,” which doesn’t care how sleepy it makes you. Garnering the most pared down elements of trip-hop, Cibelle is loyal to the rhythmic foundation of samba and the compulsory acoustic guitar of her Brazilian predecessors on tracks like “Esplendor” and “Instante de Dois,” but the songs play with those traditions freely and with confidence, elongating structures, stifling them, and flooding them with organic sounds. The songs are improvisational, beautifully disorganized, coy, and irreverent toward genres and each other. As samples, the electric guitars, pianos, spoon taps, bleeps, horse canters, and chorus of nuns make more of an impression with brief cameos on the strongest tracks, “Phoenix” and “Lembra,” than Devendra Banhart’s vocals do on “London, London”. These samples subvert human control, existing as mystical, incidental colorations that creep shyly and curiously.
Each song is a joyous little daydream: remembrances of peerless South American artists past, realizations that life is good, reiterations that life is good. As Cibelle professes on “Flying High,” “There’s so much beauty in the simple things”—simple structures, simple melodies, and simple lyrics. Cibelle’s glass is half full of some healthy, naturally sweetened concoction, and she and her contributors have realized it—barring having no talent, you don’t need more than half a glass to make a good album. It’s chock full of goodness, but that goodness is spread more or less evenly over each track, ensuring that nothing sates. Traversing the globe with charming agility like Bjork or Martina Topley-Bird, Cibelle gives us one more reason not to roll our eyes at chameleonic songstresses. Unlike many of her soda-pop contemporaries, Cibelle’s color changes represent heritage, passport stamps, and credible, well-intentioned homages, not a confused or contrived scramble to a top-ten finish.