Humo del Cairo, Vol. II: In the Land of the Kings

While it rested its strength in laid back desert atmospherics, the 2010 self-titled debut album from Buenos Aires rockers Humo del Cairo (review here) was more a show of potential than a distinguishing statement. It made the trio a band to watch. The quick-arriving follow-up, Vol. II (Estamos Felices), validates that anticipation. Humo del Cairo – guitarist/vocalist Juan Manuel Diaz, bassist Gustavo Bianchi and new drummer Federico Castrogiovanni – have stripped down their approach to the most necessary parts and presented a well-structured collection of songs that work as well individually as they do grouped together. It’s a rare balance, but Vol. II hits it, and where the self-titled had material that (purposefully) meandered into heavy jamming like the 11-minute “A Tiempo,” the longest song on Vol. II doesn’t quite hit seven minutes and is among the more direct and explicitly memorable riffs on the record. That the trio should be able to so quickly shift their approach between releases may or may not be a surprise – one never knows how long it’s been since the songs for the first record were written unless one asks, and I haven’t (yet) – but the confidence Humo del Cairo bring to their performance here and the sonic breadth they manage to cover while still maintaining relatively straightforward verse/chorus structures speaks to a distinct progression that’s admirable no matter the time span it happened over. Some bands don’t grow this much over the course of three albums, let alone one.

They operate in a variety of moods and still have wind up inevitably comparable to hometown stalwarts Los Natas at times, but by and large, Humo del Cairo’s riffing has gotten thicker and tighter. Diaz and Bianchi’s tones are rich on opening duo “Fe” and “Los Ojos,” and even later on the instrumental layering interlude “Monte,” they seem to retain a character of increasing individuality. If every album has a narrative to it – and most do – then that of Vol. II is one of Humo del Cairo beginning to come into their own stylistically. Heavy rock is at the core of every move they make, and they weave in and out of stonerly atmospheres, but Vol. II is striking in terms of the variety of mood it presents and how well the songs work together. There are 11 tracks, and each justifies its inclusion by standing out in one way or another, be it a particularly engaging riff, a memorable vocal melody (all the lyrics are in Spanish), or in the case of “Fe,” an overall largess of tone that sets the course for the album as a whole. Castrogiovanni distinguishes himself right away with a heavy thud amidst the formidable rumble of Bianchi’s bass, and Diaz places an echoing vocal far back in the mix initially, bringing it up toward the end as a setup for the more straight-ahead drive of “Los Ojos.” He’s almost certainly double-tracked his singing, but neither the vocals nor the music surrounding are lacking for a natural feel; the fuzz Humo del Cairo emit is as organic as one could possibly ask without sacrificing clarity.

As catchy and uptempo as “Los Ojos” is, with Castrogiovanni setting a “follow the bouncing ball” snare beat and sticking by it, it’s “Tierra del Rey” that serves as the first real highlight of Vol. II, and really, it’s all about the riff. Immediate stoner nod meets with rawer vocals and massive groove – a classic formula given new life by the fervency with which it’s executed. Diaz takes a guitar solo following the second verse, and that leads to a kind of mini-jam for the next minute-plus, but the main riff takes hold again and opens into as classic a part as there is within the genre of stoner rock. Subtle lead notes pepper an encompassing riff and Diaz meters his vocals to match the rhythm as Bianchi and Castrogiovanni lock down the march under the ensuing guitar solo. There are several genuine triumphs on Vol. II – among them the more ambient shift that “El Alba (parte A)” and “El Alba (parte B)” bring about immediately afterward – but “Tierra Del Rey” might be the most potent of them. The comedown that follows feels entirely earned, and the less distorted, higher-register notes of “El Alba (parte A)” both allow time to process “Tierra del Rey” and shift the focus to more atmospheric songwriting. The song picks up, riff-wise, and leads directly into “El Alba (parte B)” as the titles would suggest, but it seems reasonable that Humo del Cairo would split the whole into two component tracks, given how well the second of them stands up as a single, particularly in terms of its chorus. It’s more than a minute before Diaz comes in on vocals, but when he does, he brings appropriate gravity and layers of backups only further the character of the song, which is perhaps the most directly comparable to Los Natas’ melodic methodology as Vol. II gets until the heaviness is cut short and an acoustic guitar concludes the last minute and a half.

That turn is a bit of a shock, given the momentum that “El Alba” had built over its two parts – and one wonders why they didn’t just make it “El Alba (parte C),” given the abruptness of the shift – but “Crinas” revives a somewhat slower groove and offers a bit of Middle Eastern minor key-ism that fits well in the centerpiece role. “Monte” follows, the guitar in the intro reminding of that in Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” and once again calms the mood before a brief few seconds of noise transition into Castrogiovanni’s drums opening “Espada de Sal.” Diaz’s vocals are again layered, but also more echoed, which only adds to the space within the song, the first half of which seems to be biding its time to make way for the second. A quick build-up leads to a riff that’s cousin to the second half of “Tierra del Rey” in terms of how familiar yet untraceable it is. There’s a bit of amp swirl at the end of “Espada de Sal” that, on my first listen, made me think the album was over – and if it had been, Humo del Cairo would’ve had an unfuckwithable 36 minutes of heavy – but Vol. II continues with “Parte del Leon,” a circular riff rocker that has a bit of burl to its chorus. There’s virtually no flourish to it, even in the bridge, which is a more drastic pull away from the verse than it first appears, but in that, “Parte del Leon” show how much Humo del Cairo’s focus has shifted from the jams of the first album. By contrast, the dreamy “Descienden de los Cielos” follows Bianchi’s bass to Vol. II’s most subdued stretch, Diaz adding suitably restrained vocals atop Castrogiovanni’s slow, steady and simple beat.

A long fadeout makes way for the chugging riffs of closer “Indios,” which seems an odd fit in terms of mood, Diaz’s vocal bringing back some of the dudeliness of “Parte del Leon” as the guitar winds in layers of its own. Castrogiovanni punctuates the rhythm of the verse riff on his toms and switches back to the hi-hat and snare for the ending, which tops the main chug with a solo from Diaz and some welcome fills from Bianchi, whose playing throughout Vol. II has to this point been mostly following the guitar. Classic rock noodling fades out and Humo del Cairo’s second album ends without ever having lost sight of its purpose or focus. One generally expects a sophomore outing to expand on the ideas of a debut, but Vol. II hits in a different vein that recalls the first album without retreading its modus operandi. Increasingly throughout its 49 minutes, it shows Humo del Cairo’s progress as a unit and fluidity with the inclusion of Castrogiovanni, and if the self-titled displayed potential for what the trio could accomplish as a band, Vol. II does likewise in a new direction. Wherever they choose to go from here, the exciting nature of their prospects is mirrored by the quality of these songs, and as much as Humo del Cairo have begun to arrive, at times they feel like they’re here already.

Humo del Cairo on Thee Facebooks

Estamos Felices

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Humo del Cairo, Vol. II: In the Land of the Kings”

  1. […] reading: The Obelisk: REVIEW: Humo del Cairo, Vol. II. (Courtesy of JJ Koczan/The […]

  2. BloodSwamp says:

    Great band..

Leave a Reply