A not-so funny thing happens when you get divorced: your friends ask for advice on how to deal with their own relationship struggles. Maybe that’s why Alexandre Kassin’s new album, Relax, has two songs about this incredible heartbreak. First there’s “A Paisagem Morta,” a dark bossa nova tune about those initial moments once the breakup is final, when you begin to rediscover yourself. “The lyrics are about trying to keep things happening,” says Kassin, a leading producer and instrumentalist in Brazilian music. Then there’s “As Coisa Que Nos Nao Fizemo,” a mid-tempo song about divorce. Here, above twinkling chimes and stilted drums, Kassin keeps the vibe loose, reflecting upon the ways he and his former partner failed each other. In a way, these songs are therapeutic; Kassin himself went through a very bad divorce. “It’s just now getting better,” he says thoughtfully. Over the course of his career, Kassin has produced roughly 100 records for singers like Marisa Monte and Bebel Gilberto, has recorded with Sean O’Hagan and made a full album based on Nintendo GameBoy sounds. He has played bass for Caetano Veloso’s live shows and conceptualized the Imperial Orchestra band.
Relax isn’t all gloom and doom, though. Across 11 tracks, Kassin flirts with Latin rhythms, Brazilian pop, and straight-ahead soul, using this varied sonic array to tell imagined tales of death, drug usage, politics and fate. On the deeply personal “Momento De Clareza,” Kassin sings of his sixth sense. In 1996, he and his band were slated to fly on the TAM Transportes Aéreos Regionais Flight 402, which struck two buildings and several houses and killed all 95 people on board. Kassin was finishing an assignment and had the foresight to leave sooner than expected, eluding the ill-fated flight by a day. “I wanted the group to leave sooner,” the musician recalls. “If I didn’t push everybody to leave sooner, we’d all be dead.” The contrast here is intriguing: the arrangement itself feels bright and danceable, yet the theme is incredibly sullen. Such is the dichotomy of Kassin’s Relax, a record that speaks directly to the yin and yang of everyday life, and the uncertainty that comes with simply existing. Despite their upbeat, pop-centric arrangements, Kassin tackles heavy, thought-provoking themes. “Estricnina,” or Strychnine (yes, the poison) in English, is a self-described “strange tale.” “It’s a person propositioning another to take Strychnine,” Kassin says. “It’s an experimental samba with dark lyrics and happy sounds.” Similar in theme, “Comprimidos Demais” is about a couple that uses pills to control their mood; “O Anestesista,” Kassin says, is the most politically charged song on Relax. “In this climate,” he continues, “we wish we had a personal anesthetist to help you forget about what’s going on.” In the end, Relax isn’t Kassin’s most conceptual release. This one’s rooted in dreams and surrealism, but it’s still grounded enough to reach listeners where they are. “I wanted to make something with different arrangements and different aesthetics,” Kassin concludes. “I wanted to explore a different, diverse world.”