“Pretending He Was You” sweeps you immediately into a world in which hazy neo-bossa-nova feels like a natural, contemporary means of expression—a world in which a dreamy, whispery female singer commands so much unequivocal authority you wonder why anyone ever has to shout.
The vibe is impeccable, and so is the songwriting. Heeding not in the least today’s call to truncate songs for battered attention spans, “Pretending He Was You” lopes to a sultry beat, its languid melody line spreading itself out over 15 measures—notable both for its general length and its ability to wrap itself up so smoothly at that odd moment, structurally speaking. (Most melody lines in rock’n’roll genres carry on for four or eight measures, or very occasionally for 16.) The effect is beguiling and effortless.
A singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles, Fontaine discovered vintage tropical music by accident one day in a record store while living in London for a year, and it literally changed her life. The store was Honest Jon’s, on Portobello Road, and, as she tells it, she began badgering them daily to play for her as many records from tropical genres and sub-genres as they had. Which led her, first, to start writing songs in bygone styles like rocksteady and tropicalia; and then—a testament to her obsession—she enlisted, to record with her, session players with authentic experience, including, for instance, on this track, drummer Airto Moreira, who played in the ’70s with Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, among many others.
“Pretending He Was You” is the sixth of 10 tracks on her very groovy self-titled debut, released in April. The record is consciously divided into the Jamaica side (first five songs) and the Brazil side (second five). “I hope this record will transport people,” Fountaine has said. “I wanted it to feel like those lost records, like it got lost in the bottom bin of some world music store in London because that’s how I felt when I walked in to that record store. I wanted it to be its own world.”