Lani, Sergio, Janis and Me
Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 made the most perfect, sophisticated, soul-less music of the 60s and early 70s. Their Brazilian tinged, easy listening updates of soft pop hits and bossa nova classics are alternatively exhilarating and soporific.
Their version of "Mais Que Nada" outstrips any other version I've heard because it seems in a constant state of driven excitement whilst containing absolutely no feeling or meaning. It's completely ignorable if you want discreet background music but also worthy of more intense listening and it's even great to jump around to (whilst no-one is looking, obviously). Mendes' fantastic, stripped down arrangement and semi-rigid piano chords push the song's brisk pace to the limit whilst vocalists Lani Hall and Janis Hansen sing with a pristine clarity that's touched by a little edge of throatiness. Their tonal quality isn't quite as robotic or bland as singers used by other 'soft' arrangers (percy Faith, et al) but it's still completely devoid of personality.
And that, for me, is what makes it so great.
The 1st 3 albums released on A&M are probably the most consistent and have the tunes which resonate best with the vocals but later LPs like "Pais Tropical" also have moments where the sickly dross parts and another wonderfull track shines.
But "Stillness" from 1971 is possibly their best. As they didn't have an original thought in their collective head, it reflects the times in a ridiculously dumb fashion: by covering a flock of folk-rock releases. Their versions of Joni Mitchell's 'Chelsea Morning' and Buffalo Springfield's 'For What Its Worth' are so strident and metronomic that a stupid smile was stuck on my face as I listened on the way to work this morning.
I know it's not to everyone's tastes but, please, buy them and ignore them. You'll be surprised how much you may even grow to adore them.