Mil Coisas Invisíveis

Tim Bernardes aspires toward grand statements. In 2017, the Brazilian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist released his ambitious debut Recomeçar (Restart). Within its conceptual framework, Bernardes flexed his intellectual and compositional muscles, focusing on new beginnings and cycles of frustration in love and life. His stream of consciousness lyrical approach was matched by wandering orchestral excursions that strayed well beyond typical string-backed indie-folk songs. It was an impressive record, often sounding more like a work of musical theater than a traditional pop album, but its uncompromising structure at times stood in the way of Bernardes’ songcraft: There were many memorable moments but not necessarily memorable songs.

Since then, Bernardes has found subtler ways to blend his high aspirations with his innate gift as a songwriter. He has collaborated with the legendary Tropicália singer Gal Costa and had a guest spot on Fleet Foxes’ latest album, and his own music has sanded down his sprawling worldview to bare essentials: “Nascer, Viver, Morrer,” the first track from his latest album, Mil Coisas Invisíveis (A Thousand Invisible Things), incorporates lyrics about life, death, and rebirth with a straightforward structure and simple guitar-and-drums framework. At just under two minutes, the song seems more relaxed despite the intense emotion of Bernardes’ voice. Rather than surround himself with compositional flourishes, it opens the album with simplicity and a crystal clear vision.

The rest of Mil Coisas Invisíveis is just as concise and well-crafted. “Meus 26” ties together political themes of isolationism and globalism with personal reflections, balancing ghostlike orchestral swells with simple acoustic guitar playing and a solitary vocal take. Bernardes’ vocals drive the song through variations of intensity, shifting with ease between a whisper, a full-bodied chest voice, and soaring falsetto, the whole of the arrangement pulsating with him.

Bernardes is the primary instrumentalist on the album, playing guitar, synth, piano, percussion, and bass, as well as arranging the string and horn sections. Despite the abundance of textures, the production is delicate, precise, and meticulously arranged. Small bells and zills ring out to punctuate a change of pace; spectral string arrangements float in and out of the mix, commanding attention only when necessary. On “Esse Ar,” claves laced in reverb bounce in the distance while a quiet synth fades in and out, adding a psychedelic touch to his bossa-nova heritage. On “BB (Garupa de Moto Amarela),” Bernardes contrasts his whimsical guitar playing with violin, mimicking the joy and drama of the love story in its lyrics.

Bernardes’ greatest assistance comes from his influences, which he is not shy to own up to: “I believe in the Beatles,” he sings, believably, on the lush and monumental “Mistificar.” Other songs, such as “Falta,” sound a bit more relaxed, preferring the loungy, nylon-stringed tinge of ’60s and ’70s Brazilian fusion and vocal takes that sometimes recall a hoarse Jorge Ben. No matter where he’s drawing from, Bernardes is interested in disrupting that tradition, either through surreal orchestration or baroque harmony lines. Nodding to his country’s musical legacy as well as indie-folk music from the U.S., it’s a type of alt-bossa nova that sounds as much like Grizzly Bear as it does Caetano Veloso.