More often than not, highly virtuosic music sounds mad masturbatory. That’s because this thing people call “musician’s music” can often start to feel like that kid who shoehorns in complaints about the inauthenticity of calling nachos “Mexican food” after everyone drunkenly decides they want Chipotle. I mean, there’s a lot of truth to what they’re saying, and on a different day I’d probably agree. Fundamentally though, when will I care? Because seriously, when will I not be in the mood for Chipotle? So I’ve got to look at it like a gift when I hear an album as steaming, musical and approachable as Hello Ocho’s sophomore album In Portuguese.
The rhythmic intricacies that leave In Portuguese captivating but accessible let the band play the mellow lounge-y card as uniquely as they do, while also managing to play up the more frenetic and morbid feelings that their songs illicit. There are as many sides to the record as a whole as there are sides to the individual songs. The first three quarters of the nearly seven-minute long opening cut “Irish Wrist Watch” bathe you in this ethereal shimmering pool of gasoline before a shriek stops the song and promptly sets you on fire. It really makes a point to set the tone for the rest of this charming and visual descent into hell.
The bass on songs like “Tear Wagon” or the jazz piano and stubbly guitars on the short interlude “Nail Tractor” are rolling and oppressive, but tastefully contrasted by the big Dark Side of The Moon, King Crimson-esque instrumentals on “Hallo Gallo” or by the kind of coked out reggae groove at the beginning of “Canadian Sorry”; a song that later transitions into an uber theatrical almost whimsically classical and intricate resolution.
Even when Hello Ocho plays around with a slightly less interesting arrangement/instrumentation on the more straightforward and indie rock influenced “Baker’, the song still highlights the bands underlying commitment to musicianship while not necessarily robbing the album of any of the inner-song diversity that makes it great. While the musicianship is there, and is really the selling point of the record, it does come at a price. The price being that the vocals don’t really pop out of the mix the way you’d like them to sometimes. But, it’s only a shame when you consider how colorful and off kilter they can be; especially on the song “Tear Wagon”
While the whole album flaunts a relatively crystalline aesthetic, the production on the title track and the closer “Orange Peel” is particularly exceptional. On the former, a dense polyrhythmic vibraphone/bass guitar break primes you for this syncopated full band explosion where Hello Ocho ride on a kind of Latin expressionist wave of percussion; and it just doesn’t give a fucking inch.
In Portuguese is executed so flawlessly and with such personality, that you don’t even mind that it doesn’t really draw on many novel concepts. It’s a finely juxtaposed, challenging listen that’s decidedly modern. It takes itself super seriously without coming off as pretentious or unmoved. There’s a real emotional weight behind these instrumentals. In Portuguese is the album you did not know that you needed, but won’t be putting down.