Rodrigo Amarante: Cavalo — This is the sort of homelessness I’ve feared since I was small. I had nightmares of being entrapped under miles of pipe, of being stuck in coaches that moved of their own accord and took me too far away to ever return. Apparently, Rodrigo Amarante doesn’t have these childish fears; he takes them in his hands, whittles them and blows his notes through. On Cavalo, astride his own lyrical cavalo, he thrusts himself into the beds of dead seas and trawls deserts on the moon, an alternately peaceful and burdensome isolation, much as he described in his press release:
When I finally arrived back in Rio no longer a child and with an accent three times tampered, I realized that my home town was mine only because I had invented it, its memory a dream of smells and hope that didn’t exist in space, maybe in time. I discovered myself a stranger…
If you’d ever felt Devendra Banhart was a bit too disingenuous with his ironic freak folk, perhaps Amarante’s muted melodies and stunted notes are more your thing. Here is a map carved with the sincerity of one man’s wandering mind.
Cavalo is a gorgeous Latin-folk record, just as concise and sparse as Amarante intended and with just the right amount of accent, never taking focus away from his leathery drifter’s voice. The tracks are mostly sombre odes to blue moons, girls in villages untouched by time and other such G. G. Marquez melancholics, but throughout, even when it isn’t there, is the clop-clop of Amarante’s little cavalo topping the hills. The second half of the record settles into this traveler’s mindset, while the first half is a bit more playful with its timbres. On the whole, though, I could listen to his voice for hours. It’s got the kind of wrinkles that just seethe story and gravitas, like an old ambassador’s face.
The liveliness of Cavalo‘s first half is the initial elation at leaving home: he supplements his spidery acoustic plucks on ‘Mom Nom’ with tuba drones that paint the rising sun to the dawn created by his guitar and croonings, and ‘Hourglass’ is a surprise funk-pop number where he channels Julian Casablancas amidst the hornet twang of electric organ and a mischievous bass. ‘Mana’ follows with similar festivity, spry basslines and hoof-on-cobblestone percussion — you can just see him lowing to the maids tending fields of banana, though not to any one particular girl, but with the elation of simply being incensed.
Track six, ‘Fall Asleep’, inaugurates the deeply pensive second half in which he leaves the familiar haunts behind, and attempts to sustain himself on memories in increasingly strange and provoking mental spaces, like the wall of sea evoked by piano in this track. The title track, ‘Cavalo’, is a near-wordless trudge through landscapes bearing Dali’s sodden timepieces and made suffocatingly humid with the reverberating effects and production. If I haven’t communicated it already, this half gets emotionally harrowing, though always with a sense of freedom, and the ability to move on and out from these howling moors.
Cavalo is Amarante’s first solo record, and feels as such. It’s exactly what you’d expect to get by extracting his influence from Little Joy and Los Hermanos, and placing that essence in its own habitat to put down roots and shoots — and I’m glad he took the time to extricate himself, because this record is a half-hour odyssey, a success of sparse textures and intent…8.6/10