International music has enjoyed a renaissance lately in America, and that has brought both the best and the worst out of its music industry. The good: artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Seu Jorge, and half of Canada have received more than just a good review from some online music magazine. Major media outlets began to take notice, too, leading to attention from the business side of the music industry. The bad: record labels, ad execs, and pr firms have chosen to water down these artists’ “ethnic” characteristics in hopes of making the product more palatable to the American consumer. Nothing epitomizes this more than what members of the Brazilian-based group Cansei de Ser Sexy have gone through in the lead-up to the American release of their excellent eponymous debut.
The six-piece, led by drummer Adriano Cinta, released this album outside the U.S. in November 2005. Combining different styles, languages, and two scoops of fun, the album paid homage to past influences and an expression of originality. But when Sub Pop signed the group and readied the album for release, much had changed. Cansei de Ser Sexy became CSS in American circles, the focus of the album shifted from the electronic-sounding songs to the more “indie” ones, and all the songs sung in Portuguese disappeared from the American track list. Sub Pop scrapped four songs, such as the excellent “Superafim” and “Acho Um Pouco Bom,” in favor of the equally quality “Patins” and the minute-long intro “CSS Suxxx.” It is entirely possible that it was a band decision to remove the tracks. But the fact that every song sung in Portuguese got the ax makes it seem too coincidental.
I consider the experience of listening to the two different versions of Cansei de Ser Sexy akin to listening to the Jon Brion and Mike Elizondo versions of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine; they’re both quality, but something in the Brion version adds a little something extra. Is the American version of Cansei De Ser Sexy ruined because the Portuguese tracks were excluded? Absolutely not. Does it take away some of the album’s variety? Yes.
Marketing aside, the self-referential irony that helped birth Cansei de Ser Sexy remains. “Alala” and “Meeting Paris Hilton” provide a hard-edged, danceable electronic sound, and “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” and “Let’s Get Drunk and Listen to Death From Above” provide a poppy, post-punk edge with sugary sweet vocals from the lead singer, who goes by Lovefoxxx.
Cansei de Ser Sexy works not because of its ability to break new musical ground but because of its ability to borrow from other influences and use them in new ways to avoid sounding totally contrived. Sometimes you’ll hear traces of Cibo Matto, Blondie, even Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But at no point do these influences become excessive or predictable. This is easily one of the most entertaining albums of the year and, had the Portuguese tracks not been cut, it could have been one of the best.
Streaming audio: http://www.myspace.com/canseidesersexy