The end of everything

The more the Cambiata change, the more they improve
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  January 15, 2009

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FIVE SONGWRITERS: The Cambiata.
Photo by Robbie Kanner/Vision For Viewers.

The Cambiata are never satisfied. They are so self-critical that they decided to record their new record almost completely independently of one another, each of them working with producer Noah Cole. And after a well received full-length and EP that have made the band one of the biggest in Portland, they decided to self-title this newest release because it's the first one they're actually happy with.

This is a good thing. Some bands are all buddy-buddy and live together and spend a lot of time telling each other how great everything sounds. That can be a great way to have a lot of fun, but it's a lousy way to produce music to which anyone else actually wants to listen. For the Cambiata, "we're all very critical of each other," says guitarist Miguel Barajas. "So much so that it's hard not to get into arguments."

When guitarist and keyboardist Sean Morin says, "We don't even like each other very much," it's hard to tell if he's kidding.

This ability for introspection and self-improvement has allowed the band to grow substantially in just more than two years. Their first album, 2006's Into the Night, was impressive, but fractured; it was a study in what they were capable of, but not fully realized. Last year's EP, To Heal, the first recorded work with drummer Dan Capaldi (Daniel McKellick's replacement), was luscious and artful, but slightly self-indulgent with too much chaff amid the wheat. With this new work, they've taken the important step of stepping outside themselves and considering the listener.

They've produced a record full of tight songs that only once go past five minutes, accomplishing the difficult task of creating epics in three minutes, songs made to sound simple in their complexity. "We don't want listeners to get bored," says Barajas. "We don't want people mid-song skipping to the next one because it's not really interesting ... We would talk about and destroy the songs, and I mean violently and passionately."

The result is a total lack of chaff. Each entry and exit is exquisitely scripted, while Cole, outside the walls of a traditional studio, has worked with each band member (and a whole string section) to create something of a minimalist sound. This record's theme is change — the first track is "Changing Everything," an exercise in painstaking restraint — and those who've come to think of the Cambiata as a heavy or loud band will very much have to change their opinion. While there is still something of a heavy aesthetic, an affinity for distortion and a fiendish aggressiveness, their sound has morphed in much the way Radiohead's has, incorporating a new quiet subtlety that better allows the sharp edges to poke you.

This also allows Chris Moulton's superb vocals to shine all the brighter, as they're often paired with just the keyboards or guitars in the openings and verses. He may not be quite as acrobatic here as on their past releases, but he is laser precise and produces some truly sublime pieces of beauty, as with the crisp melody of the chorus in "The Gold She Gives," blending tremendously with the strings and horns to erect a haughty pity when "some bankrupt fool is accepting it." In the last verse, he manages a perfectly cheery melancholy for "all is well that ends/So let us clap our hands/To another empty bottle."

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