Varicoloured pop from Lisbon-based gang of psych-folk devotees.
Portugal’s Beautify Junkyards have been pigeonholed, partly accurately, as a group in thrall to English folk song and Brazilian tropicalia. Both of those influences are still present on Cosmorama, their fourth album, but there’s much more going on here, including a sidereal psychedelia that’s evident in the dialled-in incidental noises – submerged loops of found voices, breathy flutes deserted in echo chambers, clacking rhythm boxes. A song like “Cosmorama”, with its ornate folksiness, glistening with steel strings is as lush as the sextet’s ever been; the glitchy electronics that introduce “Reverie” immediately transport the song to other zones.
A cosmorama, in case you were wondering, is an exhibition that uses lights, mirrors and different perspectives to display images from far-flung parts of the world. In the case of Portuguese band Beautify Junkyards’ fourth album, it feels like an apt metaphor for a record that moves briskly between the different facets of their sound.
Where their 2018 release, The Invisible World Of Beautify Junkyards, had an earthy, folksy vibe, Cosmorama is grander in scope. It’s more sonically adventurous and features a clutch of cameos from like-minded artists. Cosmorama is the band’s second record on Ghost Box, a label that has grown steadily away from its nostalgic, UK-centric electronic roots to encompass a broader range of psych, folk, and spoken word, and is all the more interesting for it.
‘Dupla Exposicao’ is a hushed, cautious opener – all winding mellotron and hazy percussion, with singer João Branco Kyron muttering a cryptic recital of psychedelic imagery. “Curiouser and curiouser,” goes a sample from that old head touchstone, Alice In Wonderland (specifically the Jonathan Miller version, beloved of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, whose influence and shared obsessions with vintage cinema, jazzy percussion and early electronics looms large here). It’s a subdued start, but the sunny and optimistic ‘Reverie’ quickly lifts the mood. “Feels like founding / something better,” whispers Smoke Cities’ Nina Miranda early on, sounding not unlike Vashti Bunyan fronting Vanishing Twin. She returns on the title track, an eerie piece with distinctly pagan undertones. Like many of the songs here, it’s replete with images of flowers, water, and the natural world. Such standard folky signifiers here undercut with a sense of indefinable unease.
Throughout, the band takes a bricolage approach, stitching together different tones and genres, while always sounding like themselves.‘A Garden By The Sea’ sounds like a processional, with Kyron and newest band member Martinez duetting over a sombre march with a surprise tropicalia mid-section. ‘The Collector’ has a cool, slinky bossa nova thing going on and ‘Zodiak Klub’ nods to kosmiche, Danish fellow travellers Death And Vanilla, and – unexpectedly – The Who. Best of all is ‘Deep Green’, which pairs a synthesised loop and jazzy percussion with dreamy vocals from Allison Brice of New York band Lake Ruth. There’s echoes here of ‘Old Man Willow’, an acid folk obscurity by Elephant’s Memory (better known for backing Lennon and Ono in the early 70s), a record that feels like a key part of Beautify Junkyards’ collective DNA.
It’s a strange, rewarding album, rich with depth and texture. There’s crepuscular gloom here, for sure, but also warmth and beauty. Released in the freezing darkness of January, Cosmorama nevertheless looks forward to spring.
The fourth LP by Lisbon’s premier psychedelic somnambulists finds them in fine if reassuringly freaky fettle. ‘Dupla Exposição’ starts with echoes of ‘Julia Dream’ before swaying into a uniquely haunted headspace, with scatter-cushion percussion, understated, nodding bass, and flute courtesy of Helena Espvall (ex-Espers). ‘Reverie’ unfolds at a similar puttering pace, its eerie mix of electronica, analogue instruments and wistful female vocals (here by guest Nina Miranda) recalling the much-missed Broadcast. Miranda returns on two further pieces: the breathy, gentle acoustic jazz of ‘Parangolé’ and the title track, on which Beautify Junkyards most overtly embody their trademark fusion of Tropicalia and acid-folk. Elsewhere, the cello and reverb-heavy beats of ‘The Collector’ create a kind of chamber dub, while ‘The Fountain’, featuring classical harpist Eduardo Raon, is surely destined to be sampled for a future downtempo hip-hop classic. Beautify Junkyards have created a world of their own: lose yourself in it.
If I had to use one word to describe the otherworldly music from Portugal’s Beautify Junkyards, it would be dreamy. I sometimes wonder if aliens have landed and added musical textures to the gorgeous sonic melange produced by this group headed up by keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter João Branco Kyron. Kyron is joined by Helena Espvall (formerly of Espers) on cello, flute and electric guitar, João Moreira on acoustic guitar and keyboards, Sergue Ra on bass and Antonio Watts on drums and percussion. The band’s newest member Martinez joined in time to contribute vocals to “Garden by the Sea”. Musical guests include Nina Miranda (Smoke City) on vocals on the title track, “Reverie”, and “Parangolé”, Lake Ruth’s Allison Brice doing a vocal turn on “Deep Green, and harpist Eduardo Raon on “A Garden by the Sea” and “The Fountain”.
Cosmorama is the band’s fourth album and their second on Ghost Box. I’d be hard pressed to give a hard and fast description of this release, as it’s a constantly shifting musical cape, colors swirling about as crystalline notes settle around you. The instrumental passages are exotic swatches of tropicalia meshed with dreamy psych folk. You might be reminded of Os Mutantes and Broadcast if you follow those groups. Or go back even further to the Incredible String Band and their unusual twist on pastoral folk rock. Whatever suits your fancy, there are many delectable sonic nuggets here, sure to please listeners across genres. Male and female voices swirl together in counterpoint, shifting between languages in a hazy daydream you never want to end.
“Dupla Exposição (Double Exposure)” is the album opener, and it’s a strange beast indeed. Mysterious and full of seductive shadings, it will suck you straight into its enchanting maw. Serene vocals lure you into a false sense of security, and then a second voice (Nina Miranda) joins João and twines around a flutelike melody. I am not completely sure it’s an actual flute or just simulated, but it sounds authentic enough. It underscores the unique qualities of this collective and the ‘curiouser’ mantra shoves you straight down the rabbit hole. I love the sprightly “Reverie”, with Nina taking the lead vocal. She has a wonderful voice, perfect for the fairy tale web spun by the group. ‘The Sphinx’ is cosmic and wonderfully strange space pop. I adore the instrumental backdrop and the vocal lines, especially the keyboards. “Parangolé” is whimsical and childlike in spots, seamlessly meshing Portuguese and English. It is effortlessly charming and has lovely percussive moments. We are once again treated to Nina’s sweet vocals, and what a bounty it is. This is quite possibly the prettiest song on the album, but I may contradict that as I listen through. These are such accomplished musicians; they make it all seem so easy.
“A Garden By The Sea” introduces new vocalist Martinez, who fits in wonderfully well with the fantastical tapestry woven by the group. This is another glorious tune, and it has a haunting quality that I find mesmerizing. “The Collector” is an interesting song. It has its creepy, introspective moments, but there is something spellbinding about it that keeps me enthralled. And oh, the cello, how lovely that element is. My favorite stringed instrument by far, and a great addition to the band’s sound. The title track is more closely akin to traditional English folk a la Fairport Convention or The Pentangle. A lovely gem to be sure. “Zodiak Klub” is an unusual entry in the band’s oeuvre. The lead vocal is almost languid, but it’s backed up by some frenetic musical accompaniment. Uneasy listening for most people. “Vali” is pastoral and filled with chirping birds, sure to allay the senses of even the most neurotic listener. It is perfect music for this pandemic, soothing instead of alarming. “Deep Green” continues in this vein and features the wonderful Allison Brice from Lake Ruth. Given her band’s predilection for unusual, exotic textures and musical themes, she is perfectly at home on this sublime song. I could not imagine a more perfect pairing than this. I hope to hear future collaborations between these two groups as they complement one another perfectly. The final instrumental, “The Fountain”, is drenched in melancholia, and its music box musical passage turns it into the soundtrack for your next haunted house visit. And then it changes mid-stream, to something less spectral and more vampiric. Violin and fun house organ will catch at you, and the spoken word section makes it all the stranger. An odd but compelling end to this wonderful record, one you will not soon forget as it takes its early place among the best releases of 2021.
The Big Takeover
Em 2018, os Beautify Junkyards puxaram-nos para dentro de um mundo invisível, feito de sons luxuriantes, de portais que se abriam para dimensões paralelas de tempo e espaço. Agora, à entrada de 2021, desafiam-nos a abrir os olhos para nos rendermos ao espanto: Cosmorama referencia no seu título o assombro da era vitoriana alcançado nos Cosmorama Rooms, uma demonstração de “modernidade” através da ilusão pré-catódica que transportava os visitantes até um exótico mundo feito de luz, espelhos e projecções de múltiplas maravilhas: as pirâmides do Egipto, os estranhos animais de terras distantes, obras de arte resguardadas em inalcançáveis museus.
A música dos Beautify Junkyards traduz, desde sempre, essa atracção incontrolável pelo desconhecido, pelo exótico, pelo que se esconde atrás do tempo e se revela de forma mais nítida na imaginação, quando os olhos se fecham e, enfim, se vislumbram claramente os mundos invisíveis. Como nos vitorianos Cosmorama Rooms que arrancavam “ahhhs” de espanto a damas e cavalheiros através de artifícios de que resultavam ilusões feitas de luz, é também no estúdio Electric Garden que João Branco Kyron conjura fantasias, não de imagens, mas de sons, não de luz, mas de frequências, alterando, através de uma cuidada e imaginativa gestão dos diferentes recursos tecnológicos e humanos de que dispõe, as nossas próprias percepções de tempo e espaço, de escolas e estéticas.
Kyron toma a dianteira conceptual e ainda assume vozes e teclados, tendo ao seu lado os companheiros de sempre João Moreira nos dedilhados acústicos e também em teclados, Sergue Ra no baixo e António Watts na bateria e percussões, além de, tal como já sucedia em The Invisible World Of Beautify Junkyards, Helena Espvall (a multi-instrumentista que em tempos integrou os Espers e que é já há mais de 10 anos parte activa na mais exploratória cena musical lisboeta). Novidade é a vocalista Martinez que assume nesta delicada equação humana o papel anteriormente entregue a Rita Vian, cantora que entretanto se lançou a solo. Para lá deste núcleo maleável há ainda que referir as participações de Nina Miranda (a voz dos Smoke City com que os Beautify Junkyards se cruzaram pela primeira vez em Londres, antes de a recrutarem para um par de concertos na capital) no tema título e ainda em “Reverie” e “Parangolé”, Alison Bryce, voz dos nova-iorquinos Lake Ruth, que surge em “Deep Green” e ainda do harpista Eduardo Raon que adiciona poeira de sonhos a “A Garden By The Sea” e “The Fountain”.
É nítido que em Cosmorama, tão importante quanto o que se escuta, o tal mundo invisível, é também o que se “vê” porque o lastro conceptual que prende os Beautify Junkyards à terra (ou que não os impede de viajar pelo espaço…) é importante: faz-se de um atento estudo do passado – musical, obviamente, mas também político e artístico, com a sua música a sustentar-se num complexo labirinto de referências em que se encontram artistas plásticos brasileiros, cinematografia da antiga Checoslováquia e respectivas bandas sonoras, uma reconstrução arquivística da história apoiada em livros, jornais e revistas, sobretudo das décadas de 1960 e 1970, da leitura de manifestos que apontavam para diferentes abordagens à relação com a natureza, às convenções sociais, etc. Quem porventura siga João Branco no Instagram, além de obter preciosas pistas sobre a expansão do seu arquivo de livros, discos e revistas (ajudando aliás a entender um tema como “The Collector”, presente no alinhamento deste novo álbum), já se terá maravilhado com as suas colagens analógicas (e João também não se escusa a equiparada criação plástica digital), tudo pistas preciosas para se descodificar as recombinações musicais propostas pelo seu projecto, o mesmo impulso de que Simon Reynolds fala quando se refere à hauntologia: “géneros de tempos idos recuperados e renovados, material sónico vintage reprocessado e recombinado”, como, de resto, já se sublinhava a propósito do álbum anterior.
É portanto de matéria caleidoscópica que se compõe Cosmorama, com dois vectores fundamentais a orientarem a acção estética: por um lado o tropicalismo dos Mutantes, herança que o grupo tem reclamado desde o primeiro registo, que data já de 2013; por outro, a fundacional e particular visão artística dos Broadcast, grupo da malograda Trish Keenan que escreveu o manual de, lá está…, recombinação de folk psicadélica com electrónica pioneira, construindo uma discografia assombrosa que terminou, precisamente, quando os Beautify Junkyards começaram a registar os seus primeiros passos.
Com a ajuda de Artur David, engenheiro de som de longa data do grupo, a operar no estúdio Bela Flor, Kyron e restantes companheiros de aventura refinam a visão que já haviam aprimorado em The Invisible World of…, trabalho que em 2018 sucedeu a The Beast Shouted Love, e cimentam a sua posição no particular ecossistema artístico da britânica Ghost Box, assumindo aliás a importante pole position na proposta de dilatação de catálogo de 2021 do selo operado por Jim Jupp e Julian House, o responsável, uma vez mais, por dar moldura gráfica cuidada à música dos Beautify Junkyards.
“Dupla Exposição”, o tema que abre o alinhamento de Cosmograma, é também o seu manifesto: abre com sample de excerto de tensão orquestral que imediatamente nos remete para outra era, adiciona-lhe flauta de toada folk, e prepara o caminho para a voz de Kyron que ao murmurar palavras como “musgo na pele”, “seiva nos lábios”, “terra nos pés”, “cabelos ao vento”, imediatamente evoca um mundo natural de que nós, confinados entre quatro paredes, parecemos cada vez mais alheados; “presságio”, “galáxia”, “labirinto”, “sonho em câmara lenta”, um “sol submerso” que “desfoca o sentido”… são os Beautify Junkyards a fazer-nos, com as ferramentas da poética, o que os prestidigitadores vitorianos faziam aos visitantes dos Cosmorama Rooms com as ferramentas da óptica. Um menu de psicadélicas sugestões que nos coloca no comprimento de onda ideal para podermos captar tudo o que se segue.
O álbum desenrola-se depois, sempre em “câmara lenta”, por entre as coordenadas em que o grupo se sente mais à vontade, nunca se detendo, no entanto, num único ponto cardeal: se “Zodiak Klub” referencia directamente o laboratório berlinense em tempos operado por Conrad Schnitzler e Roedelius, logo de seguida “Vali” propõe dedilhado acústico e sopro de flauta sobre idílica gravação de campo que combina água que corre fresca e pássaros que cantam livres. E à deriva “stereolabiríntica” de “Reverie”, pode sempre opor-se a cadência “pernambucana” de “Parangolé”, à vénia “broadcastiana” de “A Garden By The Sea” pode responder-se com a fantasia para filme de Dario Argento que “The Fountain” poderia muito bem ser. Os Beautify Junkyards recombinam com autoridade escolástica, reinventam com experiência funda de quem já leva muitos anos a explorar a magia que o som pode traduzir. E logo no arranque do ano deixam uma marca tao forte que, certamente, será lembrada por muitos meses. Havendo justiça, quando se fizer o balanço do ano que apesar de arrancar confinado desejamos que seja diferente do que há pouco terminou, lá se encontrará Cosmorama entre os trabalhos que mais se destacaram em 2021 (e sim, deste lado há pressa para que o futuro chegue o quanto antes…).
Rui Miguel Abreu
Rimas e Batidas
Beautify Junkyards are a group of multi-instrumentalists headed up by João Branco Kyron on vocals and keyboards, Helena Espvall on cello and electric guitar, Martinez on vocals, João Moreira on acoustic guitar and keyboards, Sergue Ra on bass and Antonio Watts on percussion. Cosmorama is the fourth album for the Lisbon based band and their second on Ghost Box.
Starting the LP with ‘Dupla Exposição’, sample-like images move around voices and flutes while their personal blend, with a scent of tropicália stretches out until its psychedelic edges. The singing of guest Nina Miranda on ‘Reverie’ acts like a siren song until they merge into whispers and distorted messages. Looped percussions and a baroque collage of haunted organs break into a cosmic prayer. No details are left to the imagination, Beautiful Junkyards aim at stimulating the sound perception in its whole with a wide array of textures. One can almost feel how they heighten the senses on ‘The Sphinx’. The tropical-scented folk gets thicker on ‘Parangolé’, with a tribal feel that takes us even further away on this journey. We can find mellow takes like ‘A Garden By The Sea’ or dub hints like on ‘The Collector’, but it never stops moving forward. Listening to the album from beginning to end means witnessing an unfolding of imagery throughout different acoustic and electronic approaches.
Sometimes they come back to their rooted bossa and tropical essence like on the eponymous ‘Cosmorama’, but then they jump out again and reach even more distant places on the psychedelic intersection between motorik percussions and the folk-esoteric vocals of ‘Zodiak Klub’. ‘Vali’ serves as an interlude that soothes the ear with strings and field recordings, and it works as a preparation for ‘Deep Green’; both submersive and rising throughout different moods and the sweet voice of Allison Brice. The oneiric start of ‘The Fountain’ gives way to Eduardo Raon’s harp that seems to come from the Far East and wraps up with the aftermath of a fast-paced and tense percussive section: ethereal bells and echoes.
In Beautify Junkyards’ Cosmorama we find a ritualistic celebration that promises to unveil more details when played again.
Out in January on Jim Jupp’s and Julian House’s Ghost Box label, Cosmorama is the fourth album by Beautify Junkyards and the follow up to the impressive The Invisible World of Beautify Junkyards. It takes us once more into their weird and wonderful Universe.
Lisbon-based collective Beautify Junkyards are essentially made up of members João Branco Kyron (vocals and keyboards) João Moreira (acoustic guitar and synth) Helena Espvall (cello, flute and electric guitar) Sergue Ra (bass) and Antonio Watts (drums and percussion). New member Martinez on vocals and a collection of guests create the further vocal layers and instrumentation.
The opening track Dupla Exposição (rough translation “double exposure”) takes us straight into their world. Flutes, mellotrons, repetitive bass and drum beat, expressive electronic noises and overlapping and harmonic male and female voices. Reverie carries on with fragmented English lyrics (“Rainy letters…. something better”) layered over a tomorrow never knows drumbeat. The Sphinx follows with more psyche. Beautiful female vocals reminiscent of Vashti Bunyan or the late Trish Keenan over jumpy distorted guitars and riddling lyrics “Teach me how to find. Colours in the shadow.”
With Parangolé things really start to get strange. With the title seemingly referring to the fabric conceptual art piece by Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica or the meaning “animated situation/ sudden confusion” this track could be something from Jonny Trunk’s Fuzzy Felt Folk compilation. It’s like a mad 70’s primary school performance with repetitive wood block percussion and acoustic instrumental layering. Astonishing stuff.
A Garden by the Sea is a magnificent track with woodwind and harp and a beautiful chorus. It takes us to a world that’s hard to identify in time or place. We are not sure whether we are on the edge of a Brazilian forest or by a pastoral English riverbank – Electric Eden folk or exotic Tropicália?
The tracks that follow carry us through this world. The interlinking voices and the various layered instruments mean the album reveals new things to us on repeated listens. Tropical birdsong, sampled voices, hints of library sounds and fractured lyrics. You’re reminded of things like the Italian Psycheground group or Heron/Williamson. You also find yourself listening for fragmented English phrases within the Portuguese lyrics which are a weird poetry (“secrets. spaces between the words” “pinball wizard”)
The final track The Fountain with its Robert Kirby style instrumentation ends with a sample of a female voice seemingly on a Lysergic Acid trip. “Everything is intensified. I’ll see wild moving colourful patterns.” A similar experience to listening to this album. One I can relisten to again and again.
We Are Cult
The fourth album from Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards is a dazzling, dense work that recalls Broadcast, Os Mutantes, and labelmates Soundcarriers at their best. Cosmorama immediately vaults the listener through the looking glass, and straight into a liquid light show of colors and permeable realities. With a hook into folk and another in pscyhedelic jazz, the record is pastoral at its heart. The vocals of guests Nina Miranda and Alison Bryce move from whispered wisdoms to mournful sighs and ultimately pose as ghostly invitations. As the layers build around them, though, the progressive spirit of the band swings away from the simple folk setup and lets the lysergic lens coat the record in colors that are hard to pin down.
The works of Beautify Junkyards have always had a bit of a ‘through the hedge’ quality to them — a feeling of entering a lush, verdant world just hidden behind our own. The synths lay down opalescent mists. The guitars are mossy and wet like cut leaves, seeping through the songs with mystery that’s burdened with sadness. As with the last album, Espers’ Helena Espvall remains a key to the band’s psychedelic sway. Touches of Flute, cello, and zither give the album and otherworldly quality that plunges the listener further down the hidden paths. It’s hard to come up for air after the last notes of Cosmorama fade from speakers, but like being roused from a waking dream, the album lingers in the synapses even after it exits the ether. Fans of Ghost Box should know that the label’s a particular seal of quality these days, and Beautify Junkyards live up to the stable’s reputation nicely. Wrapped as all things at the Box are, in gorgeous Julian House artwork that tips this into collection fodder as well.
Raven Sings the Blues
There’s a sample that slowly reveals itself deep from within the digital birdsong and erratic undulations of beat spackled Tropicalia (Trop-Hop anyone?) that drive Dupla Exposição, the first song on Cosmorama, the new album by Beautify Junkyards. It’s a snippet of Lewis Carroll’s inquisitive Alice noticing her surroundings to be “curiouser and curiouser…”. Rather than being threatened by new topographies and obscure experiences, the precocious infant indulges her fascinations and delves ever deeper into this fantastical realm, entranced by the magical sights it shares. Listeners to Cosmorama will be similarly rewarded for their patient explorations into its territory, a world of secret gardens, youthful fountains and mysterious nightclubs.
Released on the always intriguing and impeccably packaged Ghost Box label, this is record number four from the Portuguese hauntological sextet, infused with lingering charm. Fans of ’90s dance pop will be pleasantly surprised as the next track Reverie shimmies out of its leisurely torpor. Featuring the hazy tones of Smoke City’s Nina Miranda, never raising her pitch much above a humid and sultry murmur, it’s suffused with a hushed lyrical potency and assertive melody that flutters like a hummingbird. Her silken tenor on that group’s seductive 1997 hit Underwater Love took cues from Astrud Gilberto’s languid teasing Girl From Ipanema and was a welcome counter to the overly dramatic urban dissonance and lyrical weariness of most other trip-hop ensembles prevalent at the time.
For the track Parangolé, Miranda’s ubiquitous smoky whispers act as a siren call over enchanting chromatic swatches of baroque samba, but hers is not the only voice that tempts. The nostalgic chug of Deep Green features the keenly sharpened wistfulness of Lake Ruth’s Alison Bryce, channeling the spirit of Broadcast’s much missed Trish Keenan. At the halfway point, on The Collector, perhaps inspired by the ominous 1963 John Fowles novel as much as the library soundtracks of ’70s melodramas, frontman João Branco Kyron warns of secrets whispered, that fade into the night. For the cryptic North African tinged Zodiak Klub, the album’s most psych heavy number, Kyron’s drowsy vocal tells tales of mesmerising flashlights that wash away sorrows, as heavy dub bass lines assimilate with haunted Moroccan flourishes.
Listening to the hypnotic Vali, you can’t help but picture yourself sat beneath some large arbor as the musical canopy sways radiantly around you, the median temperature slowly escalating as shadows of flute and cello, courtesy of Espers’ Helena Espvall, shoot the breeze. On album closer The Fountain, where the simmering pleasantries appear they might finally combust, there’s another sample, not Alice this time, rather a young girl recanting experiences on psychedelics, explaining how everything is more intensified. Combing endlessly for a sound both identifiable and enigmatic, Beautify Junkyards act as elusive pied pipers, offering an immersive and often iridescent path into the romantic heart of darkness.