Arto Lindsay has always been able to evade the many descriptive tags thrown his way over the years. Calling him a noise guitarist, as he was with the avant-rock trio DNA in the late '70s, doesn't account for the pure pop gems he's been able to toss off on his own albums and many collaborations over the years. Then again, calling him a singer/songwriter doesn't begin to do justice to the abstract guitar skronk at which he's grown adept, or his genuinely felt flirtations with Brazilian music. Prize, his latest record, furthers Lindsay's genre-straddling trend. While it brings Lindsay's Brazilian side firmly to the fore, calling the result a simple Brazilian-American hybrid would be a bit misleading. A mishmash of Brazilian elements — a samba drum rhythm here, some bossa nova-style guitar accompaniment there — as well as experimental electronics and pure pop hooks, Prize borrows from tropicalia, the Brazilian cultural movement of the late '60s that embraced everything from the Beatles to Joao Gilberto to Jimi Hendrix. So calling Prize Brazilian just means it's as delightfully all over the map and culturally omnivorous as what Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were getting into back in '68 or so.
Happily, Lindsay is as adept at blending these disparate influences as he is in finding them. The delicate bossa nova guitar of “Modos” (played by Brazilian songwriter Vinicius Cantuaria, who collaborates here on several tracks) segues seamlessly into the wallop of “Unsure” (which wouldn't sound out of place on a Primus album), which flows nicely into the stark piano accompaniment of “E Ai Esqueco.” Lyrically, Lindsay is straight out of the alliterative Brazilian songwriting tradition; whether he's singing in English or Portuguese, he uses his words more as suggestive metaphors than as literal storytelling signposts. This can be a bit frustrating: What exactly does he mean by “Stay calm/ Keep calm/ Let the room outgrow the walls/ Resemblances free fall,” in “Resemblances,” anyway? But mostly, the lyrics sustain the music's mysterious vibe — it's as if Lindsay's voice is only one more layer on top of the shifting Brazilian percussion and abstract electronics, and lines like “Do you think you're breathing air?” (borrowed from The Matrix) in “Prefeelings” seem appropriately oblique instead of annoyingly obtuse.
While Lindsay's last few albums have all had smatterings of bossa nova in them, Prize is at once his most Brazilian and most personal yet. That's because — in the best spirit of tropicalia — Lindsay has managed to use his disparate influences not to try for an authentic re-creation, but as springboards for his own personal vision.