I’m in the midst of reading Peter Ames Carlin’s Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, and find myself in the thorny chapters about cultural appropriation and making music. I have revered Simon for decades, but as I read Carlin’s retelling based on quotes and information from those who were there, my appreciation for his work is wavering.
There’s no such uncertainty when it comes to Toronto’s Os Tropies, a sextet whose “International-canibalist-love-affair-of-a-sound” sprouts from their deep love and fascination with 60s Brazilian tropicália and psychedelic rock. Their album The Soil is a complicated, combustible collection of modern-day protest music rendered in the vivid colours and flavours of a decades- and continents-removed anarchistic movement that inspired them.
The soil is a placeholder for many ideas. Whether representing the physical world and all the indignities humans have unleashed upon it, or a more metaphorical illustration of the lives of marginalized groups in society, The Soil is fertile ground for Os Tropies. On songs like “Tropicanadense”, “Undercovers Girl”, and “Lua Escura” they compost musical influences from other cultures and ferment them in the gardens of their home and native land to create música para o mundo, música do mundo–music for the world, music from the world.
Vocalist Amy Medvick sings pointed lyrics with the exotic dreaminess of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and bandmates Carlie Howell (bass), David Atkinson (keyboards), Eric Woolston (percussion), Fraser McEvoy (drums), and Graham Campbell’s (guitar) instrumentation open up like petals on a tropical flower, both pretty and poisonous. Some moments are dense with industrial clang and clatter (the aforementioned “Tropicanadense”) while others, like “Love Song”, drift by on a warm tropical breeze that’s disrupted by the most melodic feedback I’ve ever heard. It’s jarring against the song’s bossa nova backdrop, but also perfect.
The Soil is confounding collision of cultures, concepts, emotions, and energies. It is a call to action and a state of existence. An ache impossible to pinpoint, and a feeling beyond definition. It is meant to be consumed and subsumed. Put it on and take it all in.