Nico Selves – Etcétera
From Nico Selves – La Libretá
Self-released, 2019, Uruguay

Though I like to approach pop music history in a vertical way – and by « vertical » I mean genealogical (who influences who) – my musical knowledge tends to unfold in my brain in a horizontal way. It fills territories on a mental map that imperfectly match the colorful spots on the planispheres that were hanging on the wall in elementary school. Some of these territories are like far-off countries I know little about, others seem familiar, like lands that I would have paced long enough to know their boundaries and their musical shades. 

That’s how I feel about this musical land I might call “psychedelic/progressive Amazonian jazz-rock”, something in-between the boldest MPB and some wild 1970’s psychedelic rock that seems to me as if it has been recording in the Amazonia. Its most famous representatives would be Hermeto Pascoal, Uakti, and, perhaps Ney Matogrosso’s early recordings.

My relative knowledge of this musical universe did not prevent myself from feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck – or a coach filled with musicians and loads of instruments – when I first heard Nico Selves’s record. I should have known better : how many times have I been flabbergasted by this or this blue note record or techno 12” that sounded like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle I thought was complete.

La Libretá confirms that this secret line of Amazonian psychedelism never died out. The filiation with Hermeto Pascoal is blatant: it shares his taste for playful melodies, games, musical and vocal exchanges between the musicians. La Libretá also shares with many Pascoal’s records this “troupe” vibe. It reminds me of this amazing YouTube clip in which Hermeto and his musicians bathe themselves in a lake, play the flute, bottle whistle and exhale in the water.

One thing that’s fascinating about La Libretá is the way it effortlessly goes from one very complexly produced song (like the intro and its backward effects) to a tune like “Que hay ?” that sounds as if it were recorded during a rehearsal session. It definitely is a very heterogeneous whole in the best possible way. All of the many musical ideas on the record sounds good to me, and even genuinely surprised me: for example, I wasn’t expecting to hear vocal harmonies that sounded as if they were lifted from a Take 6’s song on “Tu son cristalino”, nor was I expecting the next song to be a beatboxing tune…

There’s something truly miraculous in the way the Uruguayan musician channels all these disparate musical ideas seamlessly, leading them with a voice that is both strong and frail, warm and piercing. I won’t even bother to talk about the blatant virtuosity of all the musicians. The album reaches a climax near its end with “Etcétera”, one of the genre’s most beautiful song – though I’m not sure what genre I’m talking about.


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