Monday, November 16, 2009

Something simple, something rich - Brian Campeau's 'mostly winter sometimes spring'

You would think, after a good thousand years of written music, and thousands more of aural tradition before that, that it would be pretty hard to find new and interesting things to do in music these days, without resorting to gimmickry.

But in his album, mostly winter sometimes spring, I think Australian musician Brian Campeau really manages to pull it off.

If ever there was an album that needs to be listened to as a whole, rather than in bits, it is this. Each track on the album uses only one instrument – sometimes with lots of over-dubbing and with unusual things done, like bashing a melodica, as well as blowing it, in ‘then came the sun’; or beating the back of a double bass with brushes to add percussion to its pizzicato melody line in ‘gone for you’; or not just hammering the keys of the glockenspiel in ‘denial’, but strumming them with fingers as well.

Listen to the lush cello harmonies in ‘throwing blame’, or the multi-dubbed vocals of the album’s opening track, ‘like this one’, or the way a simple saxophone line alternates with bizarre discords of noise in the closing track, ‘the roots to what’s been set’, and you will see how cleverly and lovingly Brian Campeau has built on such his simple one-instrument-per-song concept, and turned it into something rich.

The songs themselves are gentle, often understated, wistful – songs that you fall into, like a soft, warm bed: a place that seems to comfort and hold you, no matter how sad or happy you are. Even the haunted, abandoned flute of ‘anger’ seems to cuddle and caress you somehow.

Brian Campeau’s voice, high and vulnerable, but with its own hint of premature ruggedness, like a child who has already lived too much, inevitably reminds you of Thom Yourke without actually sounding like it, like in the simple, sad, unadorned beauty of ‘who cares’, where the vocal line is kept just that little bit off pitch, giving everything a raw authenticity that, even in music whispered as softly as this, makes you shake and shiver. It’s a voice that tends to hover high above the music of the instrument that meanders beneath it, floating like wisps of a cloud – thin and sometimes sounding almost as if it is about to break and blow away, but always holding itself, and its beauty, together.

mostly winter sometimes spring is the sort of album that could easily have become pretentious, or boring, or both. But because it has been put together with such loving creativity, and with music that is so quietly persuasive, it turns out to be both honest and moving.

It’s great to see Australia producing music as interesting and as effective as this. Congratulations to Brian Campeau for such an innovative, inspired achievement.

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