In Sarah Teper’s film Simply Are, the film’s subject - Arto Lindsay - remarks, “Sometimes you can divide sound into transparent and opaque. If something is very harmonious, it sounds transparent; if something is very dissonant, it’s opaque – almost sculptural, almost palpable.” This proposed duality seems appropriate to bear in mind in approaching Encyclopedia of Arto, a compilation covering Lindsay’s four most recent albums on the first disc, with a live recording on the second. The first disc is the more overtly ‘transparent’, while the second more definitely more ‘opaque’ – but make no mistake, there is no small amount of crossover between the two oppositions.
Disc one opens with 4 Skies, a quiet, melancholy but melodic song – an intimate moment with a mysterious undertone, an immediately captivating listen. The song features Brian Eno on ‘sonics’ – Eno of course produced the (in)famous No New York compilation, one quarter of which consisted of songs by DNA, the band that brought Lindsay to (underground) fame. The kind of ecstatic yet aggressive noise workouts that DNA were known for do not make an appearance here, that pleasure is reserved for disc two, but a certain off-kilter, danceable groove and perverse joyousness exhibited by Lindsay’s former band underpins many of the songs, albeit filtered through overtly Brazilian musical arrangements and melodic flourishes. The ‘sculptural’ guitar is mostly absent, snappy acoustics, lounge-y Bossa rhythms, queasy lead lines and synth washes, all accompanied by Lindsay’s crisp intonations (not a million miles away from David Lynch’s singing voice, if far more melodic and, dare I say, pleasant) – little in the way of ‘skronk’, though, which is by no means a criticism.
The importance of the Tropicália thread running through this album, most obviously on the first disc, cannot be understated, and, although, this writer is no expert, there is a very definite line from the Bossa Nova of the lat-‘50s/early-‘60s and the Tropicália movement that followed, through the likes of Caetano Veloso (who Lindsay has produced and is co-writer of the charming Child Prodigy on disc one) to the music showcased on Encyclopedia. (The heathen son of missionaries, Lindsay was raised in Brazil, left to attend university in the US in the early-‘70s and returned to live in 2004).
Encyclopedia is neither No Wave nor Tropicália and - far from disparaging either genre/movement/convenient ‘music journo’ pigeonhole – is all the better for it. For all its overt melodiousness, its sometimes-outright mellifluousness, there is a perennial sense of unease next to a certain sensuousness, humour next to tension, detachment to intimacy… Transparency next to opacity, you might say.
As mentioned above, disc two lies closer to Lindsay’s seminal work with DNA but repeated listens of the entire compilation (which is incredibly cohesive) reveal the closeness of the ‘transparent’ and the ‘opaque’ – many of the songs on the first disc performed on the second, stripped of studio sheen, Lindsay’s placid vocal occasionally breaking into the skronk paroxysms of old, the guitar a rhythmic rather than melodic device.
As it stands, Encyclopedia is very illuminating indeed.
‘Encyclopedia of Arto’ is out now on Northern Spy / Ponderosa. Arto Lindsay also features on a collaborative LP with Norwegian free jazz drummer extraordinaire Paal Nilssen-Love (‘Scarcity’, out on Catalytic Sound), and provides vocals on three songs on the upcoming To Rococo Rot album (‘Instrument’, out on City Slang next month).
Andrew R. Hill