Review by Noah Schmeling
Jabutí is a journey, in many senses. It is a record that wanders on a celestial scale, through a diverse landscape of mountains, drylands, rainforests, and rivers, intertwined with the world of ancestors, stars, and memories. At its core it is a journey inwards, using the physical realm as its catalyst. History is uncovered, grief is overcome, epiphanies are had, and all is expressed with purity, honesty, and ingenuity.
The journey of Jabutí can be divided into three parts. The first and most tangible of these is the journey through time and space. One of the driving themes of the record — the life and tragic loss of Bartholomew Ryan’s (as Loafing Hero) cousin Patrick Fitzgerald from Kerry — inspired a journey through the drylands of Brazil ending in the town of Iguatu, where Patrick, ordained in Ireland as a redemptorist priest, preached, lived, and continues to live on through the memories of the clergy and the townspeople who loved him so.
We as listeners are taken along on this journey in a very intimate way, with a few songs sounding like distant memories or stories told through degrees, but more like recollections that are being relived and experienced in the present.
The scene is set from the first moments of the record as the euphony of the Brazilian rainforest where the groundwork of Jabutí was recorded eases into focus, the endless chatter of insects, frogs, and other forest denizens humming away beneath the vocals of the first track before we are submerged in the murky underwater world of the river that took the life of Cousin Patrick. Further along, we are taken through the vast expanses of northeastern Brazil’s Sertão region and end in the town of Iguatu, where Cousin Patrick resided and is so fondly remembered to this day. Along the way, we are gently pulled in and out of memories of loss, of joy, ancestral pain, and other experiences that at once feel deeply personal to the storyteller, and yet still intimately familiar to all listeners.
The second path traversed throughout Jabutí is one of an emotional, perhaps even spiritual, awakening. Each song is delivered through an emotional lens that ebbs and flows across the record. While some songs are melancholic and pensive, tinged with pain, like the beginning of a process of emotional healing, others feel as light as air, filled with the joy and clarity that many of us experience after making peace with our emotions. The record doesn’t follow a linear narrative, nor does it adhere to any sort of chronological order, but the common emotions that lie underneath the uncommon imagery make the odyssey of Jabutí feel natural and organic.
The third layer of Jabutí is the first that is perceived, the musical layer, the vessel in which all of these other experiences and sensations are delivered. Jabutí started as a modest collection of recordings consisting of nothing more than nylon guitar pluckings and an artist’s voice bouncing off the walls of an empty forest monastery, a spontaneous songwriting process that saw one song written and recorded on each day spent in the mountainous solitude of southeastern Brazil.
Meditation has long been used by creatives to tame the monkey mind, cut through the fog, and clear the path for inspiration. What sets Loafing Hero’s approach apart is the directness of his technique, having set out without any conceptual roadmap or guide, choosing instead to simply open up and let out of himself whatever comes naturally. The focus and insight of these lyrics and stories, paired with the fact that each track feels vulnerable and pure, not weighed down by overthinking or excessive revision, is a testament to the innate songwriting talent on display
From here, the bedrock of the record was taken across the sea and into Europe, where it blossomed into the meticulously produced and arranged project that graces our ears today, thanks in part to long-time friend and producer, Tadklimp. During the first months of an existence shared with COVID-19, sounds, ideas, and recordings were thrown back and forth between Lisbon and Berlin, with accompaniments of percussion, piano, and tape effects being added along the way to elevate the impact of these eight tracks, while still keeping the unique and indispensable sounds and feelings over the forest intact and in the spotlight.
From its modest beginnings as voice notes in the forest, Jabutí has blossomed into an intimate and thoughtful record that explores universal ideas through a deeply personal lens. The honesty that pours out from Jabutí’s eight tracks makes the listening experience one of deep intimacy, as if we are all sat around a fire in the jungle, listening to the Hero’s tales, watching his eyes and guitar strings glint and glisten in the firelight.