[ALBUM REVIEW] Rodrigo Amarante: Cavalo
As I often do on such cold and rainy days as this, hibernating indoors, listening to the rain patter on the crappy plastic sections of the roof (I think my landlord refers to them as 'skylights'); I decided to trawl the internet in search of some music to either suit my mood, or transport me to somewhere less...miserable.
Something drew me to Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante's SoundCloud page, where there was waiting for me his first ever solo album Cavalo. I've been an admirer of Amarante for some years, after seeing him perform numerous times with Devendra Banhart both as a support act and as part of his band; the idea of an entire album of purely his own songs was one that excited me greatly. (NB - he is also in the Brazilian bands: Los Hermanos, Orquestra Imperial and Little Joy.)
Amarante created this album in exile, and it seems to me a beautifully reflective, at times nostalgic, expression of himself. He traverses through those melancholy places you reach sometimes when you are left alone with your thoughts, pacing through the loneliness of those inner corners of your mind. He then manages to pick himself up and shake off the darkness and despair, much as a horse leaps from a trot to a gallop (apologies for my somewhat juvenile horse metaphors - I'll explain later).
Despite it being a project of entirely his own creation and meditation, I can't help but hear the influence of his peers scattered throughout. There are times that are reminiscent of the king of folk himself, Devendra Banhart, whom Amarante has collaborated with on numerous occasions. "Hourglass" sounds like it could easily pass as a Strokes song, perhaps due in part to working with Fabrizio Moretti for the formation of supergroup Little Joy back in 2007/08.
The album has a beautiful range of songs, from slow rainy-day weather tracks such as ''Fall Asleep'' and ''The Ribbon'', to more upbeat numbers like ''Hourglass'' and ''Maná'' where you can momentarily pretend you are somewhere warm and far away. The fluctuation between English, French and Portuguese promises to carry you to somewhere far more exotic and hypnotic than North-East London.
The name Cavalo (which means Horse) is itself already enough of an escapism for me. It instantly brings up memories of a holiday I had in Cuba earlier this year, where I trotted on horseback through muddy tobacco plantations in Viñales. It was raining slightly, my guide spoke very little English, I spoke very little Spanish, my saddle was beginning to get very uncomfortable and I had no idea where we were, where we were going, or how long it was going to take to get there (or back). The one thing that occasionally broke the tranquility of the landscape and no-longer-awkward silence between myself and this friendly Cuban man was his chanting "cavaaaa-lo" at the horses to speed them up. The only way that afternoon could have been more oddly beautiful would have been having Amarante accompany me on the ride, guitar in hand.
If you're interested in reading more about the album, as written by the man himself, Parisienne music blog Sodwee have provided a translation here. He has also spoken to Rolling Stone about the story behind each of the eleven songs on the album, which you can read here (although translation from Portuguese is also needed).
[EDIT] Since posting this back in November, it seems everything was pulled back offline to go through a 'proper' release, meaning the whole album is no longer available on Soundcloud and the above iTunes link may not work in your country of choice. Stream the album here via the New York Times and pre-order it here in the US and here in the UK/Europe.