Nina Becker and Marcelo Callado have independently become key figures on the Rio de Janeiro music scene, and they also happen to be a couple, but it was hardly a sure thing that Gambito Budapeste (YB Music), the album they recently recorded in the apartment they share, would match the work that’s made each of their reputations. Becker is a charter member of Orquestra Imperial, the charming neosamba band that played the Pritzker Pavillion at the 2005 Chicago World Music Festival, and last year she released a pair of lovely solo records; Callado made waves in the rock underground as a member of
Autoramas Canastra and Lafayette & Os Tremendões before Caetano Veloso enlisted him to play in the gritty trio that backed him on the modern classics Cê and Zii e Zie.
A few fellow travelers contributed to their new duo record—guitarists Pedro Sá and Bartolo and multi-instrumentalist Rubino Jacobinho—but the vast majority of the sounds they made themselves. Considering how much I dig their music, I expected to like this, but it’s become one my favorite pop-rock albums of the year, heavy as it is with Beatlesque melodies, briskly driving rhythms, and sharp multitracked vocal harmonies. They sing in Portuguese, and the music occasionally recalls Os Mutantes (who often ripped off the Beatles), but aside from Callado’s delightful “Essa Menina,” with its shades of Nordeste forro, there’s not much distinctly Brazilian about the record. Alone and together they wrote all but one of the songs, and they take turns singing when they’re not braiding their voices. I had a hard time choosing what to post as today’s 12 O’Clock Track, but I ended up choosing the one English-language song, Becker’s gorgeous “Packing to Leave.”