On a retreat from the relentless pep that her native Brazilian Girls exuded, Sabina Sciubba has come forth with Toujours, a debut solo album celebrating the artists’ many moods. I had the pleasure of seeing Sabina last month at The Highline Ballroom, where she put on a show I’m not soon to forget. I loved her music live, but it lost no charm in the studio.
The songs range between uplifting and mournful, and every beat in between. On the sorrowful side, you have tracks like “Cinema,” “The Sun,” and “Fields of Snow,” all of which share an overwhelming proximity to Nico in both vocal styling and dreary minimalism. “Cinema” in particular resounds with far more notes of Lou Reed than those of the German Uber Dame, but it’s Velvet Underground all over. It recounts the story of a broken old whore, of whom Sabina wryly asks: “Who are you today? Propaganda or art?” These are the kind of poetic gems that illuminate Sabina’s absurdly astute command of language—all four of them. Sabina speaks Italian, German, English, and French, on top of being a songwriter, visual artist, and actress. Her skillset is enough to inspire blatant self-loathing, and she’s beautiful to boot.
“Sailor’s Daughter” is more on the sexy side of things. With all the sensuality of a Prince ballad, it bares the oft-ignored sensitive side of the German language. Cradled by sweet “oohs” and searing horns, it’s part Marvin Gaye, part David Byrne, but all Sabina.
There isn’t a song I would skip on this record, but of course I have my preferences, and surprisingly, they’re of the upbeat variety. The title track is just weird enough to pique interest but risks none of its pop sensibility. The song opens with shrill pulses of electric organ that sound like the frantic cousin of a Hammond B3. These first sharp cries send me straight into the dark-carnival concocted on Tom Waits’ 1983 beauty Swordfishtrombones. The rest of the song is of course more approachable, but just that little beat of screeching keys is the perfect dose of strange. Latin drumbeats and staccato vocals add interest and exemplify Sabina’s style, which always includes a vibrant mixture of world music.
“Viva L’amour” is another high point on the album. Sabina’s voice is at its most conversational and sultry. She talks more than sings in a blasé narration that reminds me of “Spill the Wine and Take That Girl” by Eric Burden and War. Yet the song also boasts references to 1960s surf pop and Bossa Nova.
“Mystery River” also takes notes from the ‘60s. The song is rooted by a steady blues beat, but more so the one attempted by bands of the British Invasion than Muddy Waters. I’m hearing Them and early Stones accompanied by a simple bass riff, and surprising jolts of mariachi horns.
Sabina has created an album as diverse as her own linguistic abilities, and it’s a pleasure to understand Toujours, despite my own lingual handicaps.