With its mix of seductive bossa nova grooves and winsome indie pop, Mosquitos’ III will instantly enthrall fans of the group’s self-titled 2002 debut and 2004’s Sunshine Barato, while surely attracting lots of newcomers to the trio's sun-kissed sound. This time, the arrangements are more sophisticated and dreamily psychedelic, with lots of keyboards and synthesizer touches from programmer-producer Jon Marshall Smith. Gorgeous front-woman and Rio de Janeiro native Juju Stulbach offers the most beguiling vocal performances and emotionally revealing lyrics of her career. Along with original material co-written with guitarist-singer Chris Root, she reinvents Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid,” from his classic Harvest, as a melancholy ballad sung in Portuguese.
Like most of III, that ingenious choice of cover is suffused with what the Brazilians call saudade, a word that defies literal translation but signifies a bittersweet sense of longing. Saudade gives even the breeziest bossa nova melodies a tinge of melancholy and makes them all the more entrancing. All of the tracks here have smart, sing-along arrangements that will draw you in and undercurrents of wistful feeling that will keep you listening raptly for a long time to come. III, you will discover, is also an engrossing soundtrack to a very real story.
In the fall of 2005, after touring North America with their live band-mates, bassist Mikey Onufrak and drummer Mark Robohm, Juju and Chris decided to escape the approaching New York City winter to spend quality time in the places that had inspired their music. Keyboardist Jon, in demand as an engineer-mixer, stayed behind at his studio. The group had already cut almost an album’s worth of tunes, but felt they weren’t ready to release anything yet. First stop was the Pacific coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. (Check out Juju and Chris’s photos at www.mosquitosnyc.com.) There they witnessed the November Day of the Dead events. As Juju recalls, “It was a beautiful experience. By celebrating death, everyone was really celebrating life. It was a time to talk to the ones who’d left this world.” Juju wept when she left Mexico, but had reason to be happy too: she and Chris were going to see her family in Rio. That’s where the Mosquitos’ sound was created, in a studio/shack near Ipanema, the setting for the group’s oft-licensed tune, “Boombox.”
Back in Rio, Juju hung out a lot with her mom, Anna Morato, a dressmaker. Anna not only supported Juju’s career, she designed her daughter’s stage outfits, which matched in color, fabric and cut the vivacity of the Mosquitos’ music. Three weeks into Juju’s visit, “after a great sushi dinner where we drank caipirinhas and laughed a lot,” Juju explains, her mother, a relatively young woman who’d experienced a few fainting spells earlier that month, suddenly passed away. “The world became a completely different and surreal place for me on the days following her death,” Juju says, “ full of rich life and deep love and sadness mixed together everywhere. When we got back to New York City a little over a month later, I felt that my mother had come with me.”
An acceptance of fate’s role in one’s life is another aspect of saudade; Juju and Chris felt that destiny had sent them on their journey to South America. The songs they wrote or reworked from those earlier sessions became a sort of diary of the joy and sadness, highs and lows, of the previous months. As Chris put it, “We wanted the music to continue to grow the same way we were growing, as a band and as people. We spent more time and thought nurturing the sounds, the vocal performances, the ideas behind the songs.”
Mosquitos’ work has always been partly autobiographical. Their debut disc cheerfully chronicled Chris’ wooing of Juju across two hemispheres. The material on III is personal in a deeper way, though knowledge of the back-story is not a prerequisite to appreciating these tunes. Songs like “Ele” have the same sort of easy-going bossa nova groove as “Boombox” and “Sunshine Barato”; “Mama’s Belly” accelerates that groove and adds a kooky speed-jazz guitar solo from Mikey, switching from bass. “Soap” is early-sixties pop balladry a la “A Summer Place,” with roller-rink organ and record-album scratches, designed specifically for dancing close and slow. “Just A Touch” channels the Lovin’ Spoonful’s cheerful jug-band sound and even features a kazoo solo.
As Juju learned in Mexico, sometimes the best way to deal with the most difficult moments is to celebrate our most treasured ones. III is a celebration of life, love, sex, music, ephemeral pleasures and enduring feelings. It’s guaranteed to warm your heart throughout our chilliest seasons.
The title of Mosquitos’ second album, Sunshine Barato, is a combination of English and Portuguese that literally means “cheap sunshine.” It perfectly suits this sensual, whimsical, bilingual collection of 15 tracks that chronicle the sort of experiences money can’t buy, like lying on an empty beach, dancing in the rain, or falling asleep next to someone you love. Brazilian singer Juju Stulbach and her two American cohorts, singer-guitarist Chris Root and keyboard-sampler-studio whiz Jon Marshall Smith, further refine what David Fricke of Rolling Stone has called “a sweet hybrid of bossa nova hypnosis and indie pop restraint.” Sunshine Barato will instantly delight fans of Mosquitos’ self-titled, summer ‘03 debut and surely attract a legion of listeners who have yet to catch the buzz.
It didn’t take Mosquitos long to record this follow-up. They returned from nearly a year of coast-to-coast live dates, including a spring tour opening for French band Air, with lots of material they’d honed on the road. After so many gigs in front of a wide range of audiences, Mosquitos had developed a harder-rocking edge that has helped to shape loud’n’fast tracks like “Domesticada” and “Blue Heart.” But they also began to explore indigenous Brazilian sounds more deeply, which has influenced gentler tunes like “Avocado” and “No Fim Do Pais.
As Chris explains, “While we were spending so much time on the road, Juju showed us a lot of music from Brazil that was unknown to Jon and I, different styles and rhythms. And we in turn exposed her to a lot of American pop and rock that she didn’t know. I feel that Jon and I tried to take from the new sounds of Brazil, while Juju borrowed from the new sounds she heard. And we found something cool in the process.”
With an abundance of charm and absolutely no fanfare, Mosquitos released their debut disc in summer 2003. The album immediately garnered a rave review in Rolling Stone, two features on National Public Radio and steady record sales in places like San Francisco, Austin, Chicago and the trio’s adopted hometown of New York City. “Boombox,” which has become Mosquitos’ signature song, became a hot property among ad agencies and music supervisors; it was also featured on The O.C. To paraphrase Juju’s “Boombox” lyric, they were so far out they fit right in. Though Chris and Jon had considerable studio and stage experience as musicians – and Juju had been an actress and dancer, both in NYC and Rio -- they weren’t part of any trend or scene. Their bright, sexy sound simply came from the heart, inspired by Chris’s backpack-budget jet-setting from Manhattan to Rio in pursuit of music and romance.
“The first Mosquitos record was kind of a love letter to Juju from me,” Chris says. “Somehow I convinced Jon and Juju that it was a good idea, and it just happened to work out. This time around we’re more unified – everybody writes, plays, sings, arranges. We are a real band.”
Sunshine Barato, then, is a love letter to the rest of us. The world may be growing colder, but Mosquitos show us how to stay warm.
The Mosquitos definitely have friends in high places. In Rolling Stone critic David Fricke's "Out There" column, he recently raved about the trio: "Just in time for summer's end: the endless summer and tender Braziliana of this New York trio's debut, a sweet hybrid of bossa nova hypnosis and indie-pop restraint. Juju Stulbach is a genuine gift from Ipanema, a Rio De Janeiro native, with a voice like warm night air; singer-guitarist Chris Root and keyboard player Jon Marshall Smith dust the soft hip shake of 'Rainsong' and 'So Far Away' with sprinkles of Neu! and Yo La Tengo. As the cold arrives and the nights grow long, this album will come in handy."
It already has: One of the deejays at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, NYC, must be a serious fan because on a recent weekday morning the sultry sounds of the Mosquitos were being broadcast throughout the store from the deejay's lofty booth high above the main sales floor. It was a big thrill to hear "Mosquito" over that mega-system, but then the tunes just kept coming, alternating with tracks from David Bowie's new "Reality" disc (which is a pretty damn good record too). It was kind of a dreary, overcast Manhattan morning, but those sweet, sunny tunes were utterly transporting, taking everyone to someplace warm, bright and breezy.