The Soundscapes – Freestyle Family

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The Soundscapes - Freestyle Family

The Soundscapes — two brothers in New York City via Brazil — released Freestyle Family at the tail end of 2008 during the wintertime holiday frenzy. If you missed its arrival and you’re a fan of heartfelt (but not sappy) indie-rock music, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It’s a gem.

The CD at first listen might earn a shoegaze tag because of its lush guitar and ethereal vocals. But that would be a limiting description that shortchanges what the band has crafted here. Its strong rock elements place it somewhere in the range of Swervedriver’s first album Raise: it’s pretty when it needs to be but packs a punch when it decides to rock. “High Noon in the Nuclear Era” starts like Durutti Column but roundhouses like Mike Tyson halfway through. By the end guitarist Rodrigo Carvalho has worked in some Sonic Youth references on top of brother Raphael’s propulsive drumming. What they’ve managed to do is combine musical forms in a most organic way. On “Nothing Too Late” it’s an adrenaline rush whose rhythmic pace never slackens but whose mood changes from manic to restrained and back again so organically that you hardly even notice it happening.

Being a duo, you might imagine that The Soundscapes wouldn’t be able to sustain a full sound or keep things interesting enough from track to track without repeating themselves. Neither is the case here, and credit goes to the brothers’ musicianship. Where other drummers might’ve fallen into basic, predictable beats, Raphael keeps a steady (sometimes dance-y) hand but injects tom runs or offbeat snare hits often enough to keep things varied. The more inventive drumming (as on “Back To Life” and the start of “High Noon”) further breaks things up.

And then there’s Rodrigo’s note choices, chord choices, string bending, and effects. Even when dropping in a couple of power chords, as on the radio-ready “Here’s When,” there’s a quick switch back to chords you can’t quite place and may never have heard before. The echoing delay (“Star Stuff”), the phased/flanged chorus, and other tone effects add to rather than get in the way of the sound. They’re applied and removed from passage to passage within the songs where other bands would need two guitarists to pull off the same thing.

Despite the often minor-key tone of the music, lyrically the songs evince an optimism without sentimentality or naivete. And part of the album’s immediate appeal derives from the quality and tone of the vocals, to be sure, even when at odds with the mood of the music — a juxtaposition with a history to back it up (Lush, Ride). What do you make of “She’s Gone,” where the gentle plaintive vocals singing “She’s gone forever” sound as positive as they do negative? “You Are Alone” walks the same line. It’s that kind of complexity that makes Freestyle Family‘s gestalt more than the two band members involved in its creation.