Negro Leo

The Brazilian singer and songwriter Negro Leo, real name Leonardo Campelo Gonçalves, makes short and pointed tunes that behave like song but sound like noise, and sometimes vice versa. They do something violent and artful and beautiful to pop music — but what is it? Is he deconstructing or reconstructing? Is he taking the bones out, or putting new ones in? Negro Leo is part of a new experimental-music scene in Rio de Janeiro, associated over the last five years with the label Quintavant and the club Audio Rebel. That circle includes the free-rock band Chinese Cookie Poets; the electronic artist Cadu Tenório; and Negro Leo’s wife, the singer Ava Rocha. Animated, charismatic, kind of wizardly with his rhythmic shouting of dream-state symbolic lyrics and his rough musicianship, Negro Leo dares you to demystify his method. So let’s keep trying. The tunes are arranged for a tight band of keyboards, guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. They contain funk and free jazz and noise; they’ve got something to do with the 1960s Tropicalismo movement in Brazil, something to do with Arto Lindsay and New York’s brief late-’70s No Wave movement. His songs have the complicated melodic and rhythmic patterns of conversational speech, which keep tricking you into thinking that they’re made up on the spot. It feels good to keep falling for that trick. (Ben Ratliff)

Brazil