Beautiful, Sad, Life
Soul, zen, the blues, Tao, oomph, je ne sais quoi— every culture has its own untranslatable and barely describable terms for feelings and philosophies that are common to all of humanity. Scholars and linguists attempt to describe saudade as a feeling of melancholy that stems from the longing for something that is gone.
The gentlemen of Thievery Corporation have made a name for themselves by marrying bossa nova rhythms and instrumentation with electronic sampling and composition. With Saudade, their latest release, the duo veers deliberately onto the acoustic side of this fork in the road, cutting a record that feels more than anything else like a classic bossa nova album tinged with sadness and a “que sera sera” attitude that says, well — that’s life. Live through it and let it go. Appropriately, the album is brief. Most songs float around the three-minute mark, with a few on the shallower end of two. The instrumental title track lingers on its perfect rhythm for just over two minutes and then drifts away. Easy come, easy go.
Whatever electronic elements may be lurking under the surface of these songs are imperceptible to human senses, and so we can only trust that they are, in fact, there. Soft and smooth rhythm sections dominate the album, accompanied by sweet guitar plucking, occasional strings, sax and other varied instrumentation, as well as serene vocals in a handful of languages. Whether they’re sung in Portuguese, Italian, French or English, the lyrics of Saudade have an unmistakable tone that suits the music perfectly. Every verse is beautifully voiced without being showy, keeping the music mellow and placid, even in its more frenetic moments like the quick “Para Sempre.”
Saudade is a perfect easy listening album, and not easy listening in the elevator muzak sense of the word. This is, quite simply, great music that is easy to listen to. Rob Garza and Eric Hilton have chosen to go back to the roots of bossa-nova with their latest work and it couldn’t have gone better. Expect some folks to dismiss it as a boring record and expect them to come around in a few years to realize the flawless execution that runs from the dreamy “Décollage” to the sensual lounge ballad “Depth of My Soul.” The confidence and effortless cool of Saudade make it great without striving for greatness, and therein lies its magic.