When Brazil’s Bonde Do Rolê transitions between Portuguese and English lyrics, a lot gets lost in translation. After all, even the funk carioca trio’s name is not the easiest to pronounce—websites list several different pronunciations from bohn-jay doh roh-lay to bon-ge doh hole-leh (my money is on the latter). But when it comes to the language of “party,” there is no need for a translator. Bonde’s latest album, Tropical/Bacanal, is full of dancey electro-pop and the funky island rhythms known to baile funk, but it also busts out rock-friendly riffs on top of Latin drum loops creating a tropical rager. And maybe that would seem obvious to those of Portuguese tongue who understand the name of the album. But for English speakers, let me fill you in on something: That mysterious “bacanal” word in Tropical/Bacanal loosely translates to “a wild party.” And thus, it’s not very hard to understand that Bonde Do Rolê has one thing on its agenda.
Under producer Diplo‘s watch, the group has pretty much free range to do whatever it wants. Exhibit A: opening track “Arrastão.” Starting with the simple beat of a dull bass drum, it quickly explodes with MC Laura Taylor’s squeaky, piercing vocal verses. The tempo builds with a rudimentary snare progression, and then, in the few pockets of rest in between verses, you are teased with the novelty sounds of different animals like dogs, frogs and elephants. The title of this track would have been more properly labeled with an exclamation point to match its silly insanity. At few other points on the album is this kind of out-of-left-field absurdity and intensity matched. Songs “Picole” and “Baile Punk” (which is dangerously reminiscent of Jello Biafra’s wavering mad scientist vocals with the Dead Kennedys) sound more like new wave punk than the typical island-infused funk of the group but stand out as some of the more driving and memorable tunes on the album.
While the album is scattered with twists and turns, it still exudes a core of baile funk. The group gives a nod to Brazilian-funk mainstreamer M.I.A. with “Brazilian Boys,” a track with a live-wire guitar sound, bumping Miami Bass and clanging metallic drums. Surprisingly, one of this album’s strongest qualities is its matching of guitar riffs to the funky baile rhythms and vice versa. “Baby Don’t Deny It” and “Dança Especial” both build off of reverb-heavy treble guitars that fool you into thinking you’re strolling down New York City streets in a Vampire Weekend video rather than a South American favela. Lead single “Kilo” revolves around a guitar lick that will leave you wanting to walk like an Egyptian.
It would seem unnatural if after listening to this album you didn’t have the intense urge to hightail it to some island to dance and drink your days away. Regretfully that might be outside of the realm of possibility. But at least we have Bonde Do Rolê’s Tropical/Bacanal, dense with tropical vibes and instant party-starting ability, to help us escape to this place in our minds.