ALBUM REVIEW: BC Camplight – How To Die In The North | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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four half

Bella Union
Released: 19th January 2015
 

Between 2005 and 2007, Brian Christinzio – the mastermind behind BC Camplight – produced two albums of sumptuous vintage psych-pop, only to disappear off the face of the planet. Perhaps his songwriting held something of a clue to his vanishing act; often leaning towards the self-destructive, Christinzio described himself as “the guy who blew it.” Time has smiled kindly on the New Jersey songwriter, though, as tours with The War On Drugs and appearances on Sharon Van Etten’s breakthrough album Epic seem to have injected fire back into Christinzio.

Now residing in Manchester, BC Camplight’s third LP is nevertheless firmly rooted in the all-American sounds of surf, Sixties sunshine pop and even Broadway show tunes. Despite this, there’s a generous dash of Bowie-esque weirdness underlying nearly all of its nine songs that elevate it above being just a nostalgic jaunt into Beach Boys territory. Single Just Because I Love You is perhaps the most accessible track on the album, harking back to the flowery, wistful pop of 70s duo Alessi Brothers while still maintaining a distinctly dark edge, belying its own fluffy exterior with some distinctly tongue in cheek lyrics. “I stabbed her with my heart, but the bitch wouldn’t die” Christinzio coos over the twinkly keys; even the chorus is disingenuous, wearing its satirical nature firmly on its sleeve.

Love Isn’t Anybody’s Fault follows in a similar vein but replaces the floating melody and falsetto with hushed vocals and analogue electronics. For a while it drifts along like the soundtrack to a lost Wes Anderson movie but comes out of its shell during the chorus, during which asynchronous drums and guitars literally come out of nowhere and disrupt Christinzio’s flow. It’s disconcerting at first, but is a better introduction to the overall off-kilter belt of the album as a whole.

bc camplight 2

BC Camplight’s third LP is nevertheless firmly rooted in the all-American sounds of surf, Sixties sunshine pop and even Broadway show tunes

When listening to the LP as a whole (perhaps the only way in which How To Die In The North can be properly consumed and fully appreciated), it’s difficult not to make the comparison between Christinzio and Brian Wilson. Not only do they sound remarkably alike but their knack for a particular – even peculiar – brand of composition is also stunning. Thieves In Antigua shows both of these elements off with aplomb. As a kind of neo-tropical noir ditty, it breezes along with classic 60s strings and soaring vocals; in the outro of the chorus, Christinzio displays the full extent of his impressive falsetto over only the tumbling sequence of high-pitched minor keys. Far from being derivative or tired, though, BC Camplight take these concepts and run wild with them. Lay Me On The Floor briefly returns to the surf-tropical theme with its infectious bassline and percussion before changing course and turning into a shouty, aggressive, almost cathartic sing-a-long filled with wonky vocal patterns and enough “woahs” and “ohs” to sink a battleship.

In thunderous finale Why Doesn’t Anybody Fall In Love, the album thows one final curveball at its audience by rising to a truly thunderous climax. The power chords and Christinzio’s melancholic voice – here at its full, splendorous force – combine to create an operatic, almost overblown crescendo. Whereas this may be seen as horribly overwrought on other albums, though, BC Camplight manages to create enough of a sardonic air about themselves in the previous eight tracks that it’s impossible to take the outpouring of apparent “emotion” seriously. This is not a criticism. Instead, the fact that the Phantom of the Opera-style salvo comes across as somewhat insincere is a beautiful and fitting end to an album that consistently tows the line between dark, tongue-in-cheek lyricism and perfectly constructed melodies.

It may have been a full seven years since we were last graced with a BC Camplight album but How To Die In The North is both a wonderful return and an impeccable starting point for anyone new to Christinzio’s project. The new year is only a couple of weeks old but How To Die In The North is already a contender for being one of the most sumptuous, intelligent and thoroughly lovable albums of 2015.

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