Review Summary: Cynics be damned: this incredible backstory has an incredible album to match.
Alarm bells. They ring.
The introverted, internet-fixated Yonlu (real name Vinicius Gageiro Marques) died in 2008, at the age of 16, after he poisoned himself with carbon monoxide. He stayed online the whole time, writing his suicide note and posting messages on suicide forums about what it was like to die. After his funeral, his father searched his computer and found an album's worth of songs - songs with titles like "Suicide" and lyrics like 'I know what it's like, to be left out when all your friends try the new hip suicide thing'. His father was then shocked to discover that Yonlu already had a following, built up from all the internet forums and music blogs he contributed to; so these songs have been released, using a title drawn from Yonlu's own writing, for his fans.
Is there anybody left that hasn't raised their eyebrows yet? His story can't help but feel scripted, like some big prank a record label has pulled on rock's death-obsessed fanbase. Taken at face value it's tragic and bittersweet, but there's something a little off about the whole thing. Do people who want to commit suicide really write songs about it? Did Elliott Smith ever write the lyric 'I'd stab myself in the chest for you'? Fans in 2009 might be drawn to lyrics like 'Stay with me under these waves tonight/Be free for once in your life tonight' when Jeff Buckley sings them, but it was unintentional - surely somebody making absolutely sure their songs refer to their death is just desperately seeking attention? How can you NOT be utterly cynical when presented with something like this?
So damn Yonlu for making such a great album, and damn the cynicism of the internet age for making us dismiss it offhand. A Society in Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre
really is brilliant, and it really does deserve your attention.
Yonlu's style is perhaps what you'd expect, if you were armed with the knowledge that he was 16, spend some of his childhood in Paris, and lived in one of Brazil's most cosmopolitan areas - it's informed by samba and tropicalia, and is distinctly Brazilian at times, but it's a modern, world-weary version that pulls in all sorts of other influences. If you didn't want to listen to this as a suicide album, you could still get lost in the way that Yonlu takes the kind of music you'd expect to find in his parents' record collections and welds them to the artists in his own. True to suicidal form, the first artist that springs to mind is Elliott Smith, with "I Know What It's Like" utilizing the same contrast between downcast lyrics and bright melodic snatches from Big Star and The Beatles that Smith built so many of his best songs around. But it's just the start of an array of names - Syd Barrett, Tortoise, Ennio Morricone, Merzbow, and Beck all crop up within the next track alone, "The Boy and the Tiger".
Truthfully, "The Boy and the Tiger" is probably the album's worst track - it certainly contains the album's worst single moment. After some glitchy sampling and white noise at the start, the song takes the melody from "Silent Night" and spins it out across a spaghetti Western-sized sonic landscape. It's breathtaking....until the music speeds up, disappears, and is briefly replaced by white, frat-boy hip-hop. It is, to be honest, a little bit embarrassing, but it's at least indicative of all the elements that stop this from becoming a boring wrist-slasher - Yonlu understands that there's a very fine line between the most highbrow avant-garde and the most base and silly noisemaking, he knows that it's fine to exploit the similarities between the two, and he was seemingly possessed of a childish, almost gleeful sense of humour.
Indeed, parts of A Society in Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre
are disarmingly fleet-footed, seemingly far too light to have come from the mind of somebody on the verge of self-destruction. "Q-Tip" is vaguely medieval sounding in the way some of the most highbrow prog of the '70s was, but it's also disarmingly pretty, while the short "Little Kids" is bouncy and bright, and the plaintive, folky "Estrela, Estrela" belongs on the soundtrack to a gondola ride through Venice. "Deskjet (Remix)" takes the album into lighter IDM territory as well; it sounds a little like Nosaj Thing remixing the intro of "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos.
In truth, A Society in Which No Tear Is Shed Is Inconceivably Mediocre
can be a little much to get through, its peaky, close production beating even albums like Pink Moon
and For Emma, Forever Ago
for intimacy at times. Tracks like "Suicide" certainly make for uneasy listening; but the effort is worth it. Vinicius Gageiro Marques was a hell of a talent, and this album would be just as worthy of celebration if its creator was alive and well.