Album Review: Cambriana – Worker

[Self-released; 2013]

Worker, the new release from Brazilian band Cambriana, is one of those records that let you decide whether or not it’s an EP or a mini-album. Compared to their debut album (last year’s underappreciated House of Tolerance) it’s a half-size bite, with a twenty minute runtime and five full tracks (and one brief instrumental). Calling it an EP would appear to be the logical thing to do, but when you start listening to Worker, that tag seems a little off. Worker marks a change for the band: before they were bringing their songs together via the internet, but now they sound like a fully-fledged band, all playing in the same room. The title rings true, as everyone sounds like their putting the hours in.

Opening track “What Light?” makes this clear, brandishing a louder, fuller sound than the band reached on their debut. Guitars snarl, coming and going in phases like a boxer’s punches as Luis Calil’s voice retains that mystifying accented lilt, drawing you in, but also allowing it to slip through your mind like a liquid endorphin. When you listen to his lyrics, you can hear one word as another, giving the songs strange new meanings. On “What Light?” for example, “careless” sounds like “callous,” painting a stranger picture of an already intriguing character who seems to go from being victimized for his idleness to being fuelled by finding a purpose. It’s easy to read the words on this song and others as Calil referring to himself, as on final track “Choose You” he’s standing upright to his detractors, declaring, “This is not a waste of time/ I am now completely energized.” With such a strong band and a defiant demeanour, you daren’t question him.

Plus, if Worker proves anything, it’s that this definitely isn’t a waste of time for all those involved. The songs here sound like a band rejuvenated and willing to tread into new territories. “It Never Works” deals in plenty of effects, with warbled vocals and plenty of bleeps and squiggles from synths while “Heart Keeps Thinking” has the band offering a pleasing Motown-like refrain, complete with Ronettes/Phil Spector drum pattern and staccato piano, all adding up to a likeable bombast. The aforementioned “Choose You” is the most interesting thing here, though. At just under six minutes, it gives itself plenty of time to spread out, with airy vocals drifting by the background as Calil’s central performance becomes more detached with each verse, before slipping away into the mix completely. “Give me all your enemies/ I can take ‘em honestly” he sings before fading away, like someone encounter in a dream. From thereon in, the rest of the band take center stage, as a fuzzy guitar bleeds into an unexpected saxophone solo. At first it sounds a tad out of place, played almost nervously, but before long it hits on a great instance of dynamism (with some helpful multi-tracking and well-timed percussion), and creates one of the band’s best moments to date.

Moments like this amidst everything else, continue to make Cambriana hard to pin down, especially if you were to try whittling them down and describing them to someone as a single genre. Thus, it seems appropriate to not even try any more. It’s still possible to hear their influences, from the Grizzly Bear-like acoustic guitar work on “It Never Works” and “Albuquerque,” to the National’s underlying sense of dread caused by banality of everyday life (plus “47 Daughters” has a drum pattern achingly similar to “Brainy,” which is impossible not to hear once you read such a suggestion).

Worker does, however, rely too much on big guitar and bass-driven crescendos to get itself anywhere. It sounds great, but it would be better for both the listener and the band if they tried to work their way out of or into different musical finishes. Despite all their appealing traits, “What Light?” and “47 Daughters” do finish hastily from barrages of noise, jolting you into the next song before you have fully embraced and comprehended the previous song’s final moments. The point is, though, that they’re moving into their own space, and I’d bet that next time we hear from Cambriana, they’ll have something really quite special on offer. In the meantime, Worker serves as a welcome taster of possibilities and potential. Call it an EP, or call it a mini-album, it’s more music from a band that are creeping into prominence.