Cabruêra: self-titled

Matt Cibula



Label: Alula
US Release Date: 2002-08-06
UK Release Date: 2002-09-03

Wanna know more about new Brazilian music than most Brazilians? Check out this debut record by the coolest underground group in that crazy wonderful country. Even my friend Adriana, who lives in São Paulo, hadn't heard of Cabruêra -- but her younger co-workers had, and were unanimous in their praise for this group. Now Portland's hip Alula label has released their self-titled LP, and you can hear the sound of young Brazil for yourself.

(Standard disclaimer paragraph: it's not just all bossa nova and samba blah blah Brazilians are more tuned into more kinds of music than anyone else in the world blah blah their whole nation is based on synthesis of cultures and ideas blah blah their music shows the world the way it ought to be, everything in the same pot, heat it up, blah blah blah. I've said it a million times, I'll say it a million more.)

Cabruêra comes from Recife, a northern Brazilian capital city located deep in the swampland. The last wonderful movement to come from Recife was the wonderful combo of Chico Science and Naçao Zumbi, who melded psychedelia and electronica with Brazilian and African and Latin music until it sounded perfect; their album Afrociberdelia is pretty much required listening for anyone who wants to know what modern Brazil sounds like. But ever since Chico died in that car crash a couple of years ago (Naçao has gone on to form XXXX), Recife has been waiting for the next new thing. Along comes Cabruêra.

This is a six-person combo that has managed to mix a time-honored Afro-Euro-Brazilian music in with the rest: they manage to work the ska-polka rhythm of forró music in with all the other sorts of music created by humans, and make it work. They have also perfected a new way of playing the electric guitar, a way which -- oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself. First tracks first.

They start with "Loa de Chegança", an a cappella chant that serves to wake us all up. I can't remember the last crucial band to open their debut album with an a cappella chant, but Cabruêra has the balls to do just that. Then they launch into a song called "Forró Esferográfico," a tune which I heard on last year's Piranha live compilation Sons da Terra. When I reviewed that record for PopMatters last year, I noted that Cabruêra leader Arthur Pessoa was credited with playing a guitar esferográfico, but had no idea what that might be. Well, now I know: he's wailing on an electric guitar with a ballpoint pen. (Simple, really: esfero = sphere, gráfico = pen. My Portuguese ain't that good.) My ears hear this as a more organic way to play e-bow style effects, but I'm going to quote the booklet, which claims that this sounds like "a cello which has swallowed a beetle" -- much better than mine. At any rate, it sounds kick-ass, and the instrumental that has been built around this "instrument" is one of the catchiest funkiest things I've heard in a long time.

Cabruêra plays several other instrumentals or quasi-instrumentals on this record, and all of them are worth the time that it takes to hear them. Guitarist Fredi Guimarães is a skilled composer who knows how to maintain moods without using a lot of words. His "Certo Sertão" is gentle acoustic folk-picking undergirded by a strange tone that sounds like a didgeridoo, until the clean light percussion moves in and gives it a pulse. The rest of the track intermixes organic and computer sounds, but not in that man vs. machine way; Guimarães just treats keyboard squiggles and freaky bell-like tones as everyday business. "Música Nova" is just as delicate -- a moody meditation soundtrack that uses wordless vocals until it evolves into a sambafied down tempo dance with the repeated yell of "Terra!" (That's what I mean by quasi-instrumental, by the way.) Fredi's collaboration with (I'm assuming it's his brother) Efrem, "Galopeando", uses the contrast between melancholy and sunniness to create a truly stunning soundtrack to whatever thoughts are in your head; it's Yes and Caetano and Brit-pop and Peter Gabriel all in one, with that esferográfico sound hovering just out of sight. And if you're looking for the Asian Massive sound in a Brazilian electrogroove, "Bagacera" (co-written by Fredi and bassist Orlando Freitas) brings it out lovely, with sitar sounds played on guitar and tabla sounds played on Brazilian drums and a phase effect that'll make you gasp.

But Pessoa is the leader of Cabruêra, and his songs are impressive too, even if they have lyrics on 'em. "Muganzé" is a spoken-word piece done like a political rally set to some scary-ass Yoko Ono backing courtesy of percussionist Zé Guilherme. My Portuguese she is not so great, but when words like "Fatores externos exercem coerçao sobre o ser" are declaimed in a big ol' creepy bass voice, it works immensely, and when everything turns into a coffee-flavored monstermovie dance, you'll be smiling and scared at how good this band can potentially be. This is to be entirely contrasted with the no-static-at-all smiliness of "Parapoderembolar", which is entirely bossa-rap in the fashion of Arnaldo Antunes and name-drops Jackson Pandeiro and Luiz Gonzaga right along hip-hop (pronounced, in that Brazilian way, "hippie-hoppy") and "sambafunkysoul" and rock and xote and xaxado; quite a manifesto, especially with that airy but insistent beat floating from each speaker like a cool new breeze blowing from the south.

Cabruêra truly recognizes no boundaries between any of those genres of music they mention above, because they're too busy running shit. Track for track, this is the most accomplished and least intimidated debut I've heard this year. They just bust out the way they want to with no fear about anything, the way music was meant to be. I love this group, but I have a feeling that they've already gone far beyond what this record sounds like. I can't wait. Alula, do your duty and bring on Album #2!

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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