Tropicália may not be so young anymore, but the revolutionary Brazilian musical movement is certainly alive and well. Caetano Veloso has maintained a strong and steady output since his psychedelic beginnings in the 1960s. And Tom Zé, has been continually putting out challenging music, with highly conceptual albums like Estudando o Pagode. Yet until 2006, when they reformed for a tour and the festival circuit, Os Mutantes had been inactive for nearly three decades. Their last album, Tudo Foi Feito Pelo Sol, was released in 1974, and though Sergio Dias kept the name alive a few years longer, the band officially dissolved in 1978. Dias, his brother Arnaldo Baptista and Rita Lee continued to make music separately, Lee being the most prolific of the three, but when Dias and Baptista brought Os Mutantes into the aughts, it wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, but an event to be celebrated, and Haih, the first new Mutantes album in 35 years, is evidence that the oddball psychedelic magic hasn’t disappeared after such an extended absence.
With Baptista bowing out after Os Mutantes’ reunion tour, Haih is essentially the work of Sergio Dias, though not without some help from high profile friends, namely Jorge Ben and Tom Zé. And if the band is to continue without some of its founding members, those are certainly some amazing pinch hitters to have on a musician’s team. Yet after 35 years, it’s hard not to be affected by a bit of skepticism about the potential outcome. If it’s too much like the band’s old albums, it may come off as forced or anticlimactic. If it’s not enough like those albums, it could alienate fans. According to Dias, however, “it is a perfect vision of what Os Mutantes should sound like in the 21st century.” And the amazing thing is that he’s absolutely right. The mischievous, chaotic spirit of the band is still alive on Haih, yet there’s wide diversity and growth on Haih, not to mention much greater clarity of production. Technology can advance quite a bit in 35 years, you know.
The fuzzbox and horns that kick off first song “Querida Querida” stir up a complex mix of emotions—it’s both prime Mutantes and something that sounds nothing like them all at once. And that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as the group shifted styles numerous times in their decade-long career. Yet the most important thing is that it’s good, and adequately weird, which is one of the most reassuring aspects of their return. “Teclar” takes a different turn altogether, incorporating elements of Middle Eastern music, while the vaudeville samba of “2000 e Agarrum” is one of the closest tracks to Os Mutantes’ classic sound, and certainly one of the most fun moments on the album. The cynical and satirical political nature of the band permeates the album, particularly on “Baghdad Blues,” which actually sounds much closer to new labelmate Tom Waits than any of their Tropicália classmates. “O Careca” is a bit more straightforward Brazilian pop, and a glorious slice of it at that, “O Mensageiro” finds the group going jangle-pop, and “Samba do Fidel” incorporates Cuban elements, as you might have guessed.
There’s such a broad and exciting range of sounds on Haih that, in a way, it’s almost like discovering an entirely new band. And in a way, Os Mutantes are an entirely new band. With some new musicians (save for Dias, of course) and 35 years off, things have most certainly changed. Yet as Haih certainly proves, those changes have essentially been positive. Still weird, wild and creative, Os Mutantes sound as vital as ever.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.