Release Date: Aug 23, 2011
Record label: Downtown
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Baile Funk
CSS is an acronym for cansei de ser sexy, or, for those of you too lazy to learn Portuguese, “So tired of being sexy.” But, all apologies, we never really wanted them for their brains. And on their third effort, it’s still the sexy that sells us. Sure, there’s a stunningly pretty little calypso smoothie, “Red Alert.” But it’s the hot, sneering electro-pop grinders like “You Could Have It All” and Lovefoxxx’s fiery teenage goth-chick reminiscence “City Grrrl” that really get our hormones jumping.
Three years after the somber Donkey, CSS returned with La Liberación, a fittingly named set that sounds nearly as freewheeling as their debut. They explore rebellion on large and small scales, from the punky title track's feminism -- which is delivered in Spanish, a first for CSS -- to “City Girl”'s dreams of pink hair and black lipstick set to hard-edged electro-pop with a surprising trumpet solo. More importantly, the band sounds liberated from the expectations and misplaced ambition that weighed down Donkey, and La Liberación's tighter, simpler songwriting allows them to get their party back.
Once you get past the borderline alcoholism and heavy smoking, not to mention the frequent bed-hopping and blatant misogyny, Don Draper's not a bad role model to have as far as television characters go. Much wisdom can be gathered from his philosophical musings disguised as sales pitches, and Brazilian act CSS may well have been paying close attention to his mantra for season four - 'If you don't like what's being said about you, change the conversation' - when it came to naming their third album. By titling it La Liberación they've decided to frame their declining fan base and loss of a record deal as a new start, and while it may be slightly dishonest of them to do so, at least the name's far less embarrassing than that of their previous effort Donkey.
The 2006 arrival of Sao Paulo novo-wave sextet CSS couldn't have been better timed, coming as it did in the wake of a pervasive post-punk revival in indie-rock, a burgeoning Diplo-led interest in gritty Brazilian dance music, and a broadband-enabled globalized mode of music consumption that allowed record labels to perform international A&R scouting from their desktops. And CSS were more than happy to seize the moment, making music with no regard for tomorrow, filling their hipster-embraced debut album Cansei de Ser Sexy with trashy tributes to indie-rock favorites of the day and 15-minute celebrities du jour. However, after their 2008 downer of a sophomore album, Donkey, failed to generate the same amount of dancefloor traction-- and following a subsequent split from their North American boosters at Sub Pop-- CSS know it's going to take a lot more than a Death From Above 1979 reunion tour to make them relevant again.
It seems almost perverse to think that [a]CSS[/a] are celebrating their eighth birthday next month. The Brazilian quintet have always been music’s neon toddlers; they brought face paint, flowers, fun and a disco-funk-punk debut to a monochrome mid-noughties during their terrible twos, and anyone who made love while listening to ‘[b]Cansei De Ser Sexy[/b]’ wished they could carry on like that forever.They couldn’t, of course, and second album syndrome was near-life-threatening. If the music of the debut was hot, hot sex, ‘[b]Donkey[/b]’ was more of a gruntfest.
It's hard not to read into the fact that CSS's former label, Sub Pop, which signed the band out of Brazilian obscurity in 2006 and watched them grow into international purveyors of free-spirited electro-rock, took a pass on their third record. Maybe it had to do with their unloved second album, which suggested CSS were struggling to rise above the mid-decade glut of indie-rock-meets-electro-dance-party groups. La Liberación is not compelling evidence that they managed to do so.
After releasing an underwhelming second album in 2008 and touring for years on the strength of its predecessor, many-headed Brazilian dance-rock specialists CSS retreated to São Paulo to recharge and consider some new directions. Reggae, Afrobeat and piano-driven balladry have been admitted to the party on album number three, but the band struggle to retain the freshness and lo-fi energy of their debut. La Liberación is better in its quieter moments, notably "Partners in Crime", whereas the teenage revolt enshrined on closing track "Fuck Everything" is starting to feel a little forced.
In music, there’s a clear divide between sex-as-social-commentary and sex-as-cheap-marketing-ploy. Electroclash queen Peaches is a master of the former, subverting and skewering gender roles, vanity, and the absurdity of modern sex norms with vicious hilarity. On the other end of the spectrum, you have someone like Ke$ha, whose posturing—a heavy-handed nod to hedonism for hedonism’s sake—smacks of an artist who falsely believes she has something insightful to say on the subject, thereby ironically contributing to the mindless oversexualization of pop music.
The Brazilian dance-heavy new-wavers of CSS have still got it. And by it, I mean an unapologetic and mischievous brand of raw dance-pop-fueled vigor. However, the band’s third studio album, La Liberacion, brings this energy in glimpses, not in full force.Admittedly fun but rarely clever lyrics plus a pocket of lagging songs make for a hot-and-cold album.
A muddled third album from the Brazilians, plenty of fun but with little focus. Natalie Shaw 2011 São Paulo's CSS are back after a three-year break with La Liberación, a third album which attempts to address the criticisms faced by their previous two. Their self-titled debut – released back in 2006 – was firmly positioned as a posturing throwaway, all sweary and light; 2008’s newly-sober but somewhat weary Donkey, though, stripped CSS of their fun and outsider-ness.