I base myself in the melody, I think that’s what people cling, at least that’s what I hold listening to the songs I do not understand. I confess that I too love the English language, here in Brazil, people do not understand very well what I sing, it always seems a little too tangled.
25,322,880 12 inch vinyl records from Rio de Janeiro, I wandered into a New Orleans record store called Sisters in Christ. The album Death Friends, the newest by Lê Almeida’s band Tape Rec, was playing through the store speakers, shaking the lead paint off the walls. The music was loud but melodious, like if The Beach Boys had been founded by a skater punk in the 90s, not a surfer from the 60s (had never made it too big, played a lot of house parties instead, shied away from ballads, drank tall boys, definitely never did a guest spot on Full House, but toured with The Pixies at the peak, Brazilian).
The record was pressed in Florida. Nevin Marshall, the lone actor at IFB Records, discovered Death Friends via an online community for music sharing. After reaching out to Lê, Marshall pressed 500 copies – one of which I found at Sisters in Christ.
Lê and three other musicians recorded the album at Lê’s home. The album art consists of Lê’s collage work, like a lot of the album art for his projects.
From the Death Friends 35, I looked online for more of Lê’s loud and fuzzy indie rock and noise pop. Since 2006, Lê has been posting music online under his label Transfusão Noise Records; there are more than 40 records to hear that Lê played in and/or helped produce.
Lê’s music has heavy distortions, which allow you to turn it up way louder than typical punk or grunge rock without it grating your nerves. His latest solo work leans on melodies a bit more than it has in the past. Coupled with the distortion, it makes for a versatile sound, but still a bit dirty, like Pavement meets Pixies. It’s reminiscent of the music I grew up with, while embracing some art rock with its inspired, wandering guitar solos.
After about eight years of enjoying tropicália and samba, I’d found music from Brasil that made me, American South white boy with what some people have called a slur, feel like I’d gone beyond just enjoying something “exotic,” that I was appreciating a foreign work properly, or at least not as improperly (this is something I don’t expect to figure out; behind it I think there are both beautiful and ugly kinds of appropriation, but then again, maybe only a white boy would argue for a beauty in appropriation at all). Lê and I did, though, grow up listening to a lot of the same music, even in a similar timeline. I’m 33; Lê is 30, and we’ve both arrived at our respective ages having enjoyed a lot of the same music.
“My interest in music started from some classic rock LPs of my father, Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Kiss were the things I listened to for a while, then, Pixies, Mudhoney, Pavement.”
Transfusão Noise Records
In 2004, starting first with a battery drum kit and then a guitar, Lê played in various bands at his home in the Baixada Fluminense, a region outside the city Rio, and founded Transfusão Noise Records. To support the new label and fund shows, Lê would travel into Rio and work at his father’s luggage shop, mending bags. “I work with my father think about 30 hours a week. It helps me to fix some things and develop projects.” Always doing multiple projects at a time, Lê recorded and self-released his first EP under TNR, Eu eu mesmo e os vários beijos cafeinados by his band Coloração Desbotada. During the next few years, Lê kept mending bags and playing at shows with a growing pool of talent and friends.
By 2008, TNR was producing albums by bands outside of Rio and had become a good source of the loud, distortion-heavy music in the region. For the next five years Lê would play in and record a multitude of bands with sounds ranging from grunge to noise pop to loud folk. The Casaes brothers, João and Paulo, became major collaborators with Lê around this time, playing on some Lê albums, mastering TNR records, and pressing a lot of the vinyl.
Eventually, Lê formed Tape Rec with Evandro Fernandez, Leonardo Lara, and Bigu Medine. “We did not play very well but always wanted to sound louder than Sonic Youth.”
Lê started working more as solo artist in 2009, with the REVI project and then releasing his first full-length solo album, Mono Maçã, in 2011. He played more shows outside and around Rio, exposing himself to an even larger audience in Brasil, which led to Lê and the Casaes brothers recording and producing more and more bands. Feminist punk by Trash No Star, lo-fi psicodelia by Chapa Mamba, rock by Quadrúpede Orquestra.
Because Lê does so much work, it might be easy to assume he’s the solitary muscle behind TNR, but the label is actually more of a family of musicians that grew up playing together and met through shows around Rio.
The Gran Noise Family: collaborator and friend of Lê for ten years, Evandro Fernandez; the one who taught Lê to play the guitar and the only one that has ever punched somebody in the face for Lê, Leonardo Maciel; collaborator and friend of Lê since the eve of his eighteenth birthday, Leticia Lopes; newer band mate in multiple projects, Felipe Oliveira; friend and band mate since the indie rock party days at the Baixada Fluminense and a pillar of TNR, Bigu Medine; drummer and constant source of positive energy at the parties, Joab Regis; owners of PUG Records and promoters of TNR work, André Medeiros and Eduardo Vasconcelos – and many other staff members and show supporters.
The Move to the Escritório
With all the new projects, new bands to record, and shows to play and host, it was clear he needed room to grow. In mid-2013, TNR moved to a studio spot in downtown Rio they call the Escritório. At the Escritório, a low-ceilinged office space with posters and graffiti on the walls, some lights hanging from different corners, Lê records music and hosts live shows and parties. There’s always a VHS film playing on the small television set.
His dad’s luggage workshop is close enough that he can walk to work. Lê and his dad don’t talk a lot about his music, but his dad supports his work and will sometimes ask about where he’s traveling next, where he’s playing shows.
Lê likes to collage, and he’s had some exhibitions. He does most (all?) of the designs for his album art. You can tell. There’s a recognizable Lê style in his collage work and album art – sentiments through rearranged explanations of life found in outdated textbooks and encyclopedias.
He plays in more than five bands, including Tape Rec, Carpete Florido, Babe Florida, Treli Feli Repi, Gaax, Refrigerantes, and he’s currently putting together another band called Bolden. João says that some of these bands are just Lê writing, recording, and playing all the instruments by himself.
Next Tuesday I will release a new album, which also will come out in LP by IFB Records and other US labels on CD and K7. Here in Brazil it will be distributed by a major label beyond Transfusão.
All this work he does, it makes me wonder how a major label, the controlling sort, would handle him. They’d look at him and not even get an idea of their version of Lê because the idea is already too securely formed in all the stuff he’s already doing. Lê’s latest album, Paraleloplasmos, came out on March 17th through Deckdisc and it’s his first album distributed by a major independent label. But Deckdisc only acts as a distributor and doesn’t interfere with Lê’s creative process.
As a former pizza cook adjunct, I’m under the impression that I can relate to Lê and his underappreciated talent, which is probably wrong on a lot of levels. I know this: I too want to be louder than Sonic Youth.
Safe to say: talented, hard working, underappreciated, Lê actually is all of these things.
For as long as I can remember I’ve appreciated things and people I don’t fully understand: writing, Sylvia Plath, soft shell crab, Brasilian music… Except for when it comes to my day-to-day job (for practical reasons), I like being around people and things that keep secrets from me, is what I tell myself. In 2007, I studied Portuguese for six months, and told myself that that was sufficient. There are many words I can pick out of Transfusão songs and understand, but more that I can’t of course.
And then here are a few translations: skateboarding down the exit ramp of a parking garage, getting stoned for the first time after a summer’s long grounding for getting stoned, honky life without wireless or preservatives, day in day out running down an endless hill somewhere with my sister when we were kids and still talked.
Most of the first albums I heard were my mom and dad’s Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, Dylan, and Hendrix. As a teenager, I spent many Saturdays staring up at the clouds, listening to Pavement, when I was paid to navigate a ball picker around the Richmond Country Club driving range (I don’t care, I care, I really don’t care!) Lê does a gorgeous and loud cover of Nirvana’s ‘93 version of ‘Marigold,’ a song I had on repeat back in ninth grade and happily returned to repeat, but in the form of Lê’s cover.
There are recognizable versions of distrust, aspiration, pain, and joy that find their physicalities in Lê’s melodies. We ‘base ourselves in melody,’ a common melody founded in music that we both grew up listening to while we digested our respective worlds, despite more than 25,322,880 12 inch vinyl records between us – a common melody not existing between myself and Zé or Gilberto as much. But in this case, melody is stronger than geographical and language barriers and transcends mere fetishizing of the ‘exotic.’ But I don’t know how sure I am of all this; I even contacted multiple Ivy League professors of media anthropology about it, but all were either on sabbatical or ignoring my questions or both.
So I tinker with the American South white boy’s playlists (always working):
The “Brasilian playlist for dinner parties” might include Astrud Gilberto, some Carmen Miranda towards the end if the boredom hasn’t already killed you. In the rare case that there’s a real party (and the real parties are becoming increasingly rare these days), weird people out with some Tom Zé. When it’s time to inveigle a potential lover, try to inject a harmless quality to your advances with an Os Mutantes mix (doesn’t work). Listen to Lê Almeida or anything TNR. Here’s a real Brazilian party mix:
- Lê Almeida – Ester 2. Lê Almeida – Correscondido 3. Chapa Mamba – Cocada Preta 4. Lê Almeida – Vamos Ver O Sol 5. Lê Almeida – Por Favor Não Morra
- LuvBugs – Tempo Amigo 7. Chapa Mamba – Bandeira Dos 8. Tape Rec – Lastimável 9. Lê Almeida – Encrenca 10. Lê Almeida – Marigold(Nirvana cover) 11. Lê Almeida – Câncer dos Trópicos 12. Lê Almeida – Fuck The New School 13. Lê Almeida – Meu Jeans
Lê says that what keeps him working is the search for a sound that he doesn’t know yet. “I think it’s an eternal search for a sound, I do not even know what it is.” As TNR grows, Lê anticipates that he will someday no longer work at his dad’s luggage shop, but it’s just right down the street from the Escritório. He’ll see his father and the luggage shop as long as he’s at the Escritório. His work will involve him doing what he has always done, making music and playing with his friends. He’s indifferent towards much else. “I guess I want to go to some cities in the United States, play in a garage, maybe somewhere in California, near a beach.”
Peyton Burgess lives in New Orleans where he teaches writing and
works in the library at Loyola University. More of his work can be found