“Nu-rave” may now seem as impossibly distant a memory as electroclash, but in 2006 its popularity helped catapult São Paulo’s CSS into the international spotlight. Their UK calling card was “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above,” a brash, zeitgeist-busting blast of Day-Glo electro-punk that made up for what it lacked in compositional sophistication with energy and attitude. The support of Diplo further boosted their hipster kudos, while worldwide synching of their “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex” to an iPod commercial in 2007 sealed the crossover deal. Their debut album, Cansei de Ser Sexy was inescapable.
Of course, the problem with being carried along on the back of any scene, however unwittingly, is that the buoyancy can’t last. CSS were so very de nos jours that their sound quickly dated, and they struggled with their second and third albums, not least of all due to the messy departure of co-songwriter and producer Adriano Cintra in 2011. It’s both impressive that the band (now trimmed to a four-piece) have hung in there for a fourth record, and laudable that they appear to have been willing to jettison what wasn’t working.
With producer Dave Sitek at the helm, CSS have developed a leaner, melodically more smooth and less crudely articulated style of synth pop that gives each track plenty of space in which to breathe (most strikingly, in the sweetly geeky “Frankie Goes To North Hollywood”) and is seductively heavy on the vocal reverb. It’s a record designed to appeal to most palates, whether their taste is for M.I.A. (“Hangover,” co-written with Rancid’s Tim Armstrong fits that bill), Ladytron (“Honey”), Lykke Li (the Hawaiian guitar-flecked “Girlfriend”), Crystal Castles (“Wild Flowers”) or Cibo Matto (“Teenage Tiger Cat”). Its lightness and mellow mutability is both the strength and the possible sticking point of Planta; the receptive divide will doubtless simply come down to the age of listeners’ ears.