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Clarão Joe Banks , August 18th, 2014 13:13

The often-stated belief that there's nothing new in rock is of course a ridiculous claim, made by those with decidedly Anglo-American ears. But you know, there's a whole world out there. Clarão is the second album from Portuguese group Paus, and while often excellent, it's clearly the work of a band operating outside of the US/UK musical axis. So it must be "world music" then? Well, there's the rub – as soon as you introduce tonal or rhythmic elements from non-English speaking cultures into rock, there's a strong temptation to exotic-ise that music, when actually it should be viewed as a stirring of the universal melting pot, a new combination of ingredients to prove the naysayers wrong.

For all that, it's still difficult to talk about Clarão without falling back on notions of foreignness. Paus produce music that's a head-on mash-up between the traditional and the modern, processed guitars and electronica mixed in with Latin rhythms and chanted vocals. There's also a hint of Tropicália, but this is far away from the charming psych pop of Os Mutantes – the band members are all ex-hardcore punks, and the spirit of bands such as Fugazi is apparent in Clarão's forceful, sometimes overwhelming, arrangements and intense drum battery. But what this album most resembles is an updating of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno's concept of "fourth world" music, where elements from different cultures and eras are combined to create a future primitive hybrid.

That's not to say this is academic music – in simple terms, it rocks and is best enjoyed at high volume. Opening track 'Corta Vazas' immediately nails Paus' blend of pan-global influences, its cyclical Afrobeat guitar and drawn-out vocals thrillingly interrupted by a pounding rhythm and growling fuzz bass, Anglo-American signifiers of linear rock power contrasted with a song structure based on reoccurrence. Similarly, the insistent tribal marimba riff of 'Pontimola' is hacked away at by mounting waves of glitchy, industrial noise while a dirty, muffled bass tries to pull it free of its moorings. This sense of standing still while moving forward is one that Paus create throughout the album.

Of course, there are precedents for this type of cybernetically-modified art rock – Battles and Blk Jks spring to mind – but it's Radiohead that are a particularly pertinent reference point. After the stilted dead-end of The King Of Limbs, you suspect Yorke & co would love to make something both as organic and fucked-up sounding as the distorted funk bass, echoing vocals and electro-detritus of 'Bandeira Branca' (the video to which captures Paus's ancient Vs futuristic vibe perfectly). Ditto the proggy, shimmering keys of 'Primeira' or the insectoid guitar and duelling bass and drums of the title track, where the softly beseeching vocals sound like they're singing the group's machinery to sleep.

After the dense interplay of the first few songs, Paus take their sound in more exploratory directions. 'Ambiente De Trabalho' is mellowed out with dub techno and yes, ambient textures to the extent that it sounds as though Eno himself may actually be collaborating with them, while 'Cume' experiments with cut-up vocals, its elastic and ecstatic instrumental sections driving the song heavenwards. 'Negro' is the group at their furthest out, a spacy guitar figure over a deep bass swell that explodes into the void with a whirring of digital gears and cyborg muezzin cries.

Clarão is a robust challenge to the pessimists of the Anglo/American rock hegemony. It may require a slight re-adjustment of the ears to fully appreciate this album, but its vibrant, multi-faceted sound is yet another bulwark against the myth of the stalled future.

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