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30 September 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'II & III' (Pitch-A-Tent)

This is where early Camper peaks, as I said in the last post - the dark/psych edge is much more pronounced, but it's no less eclectic. And there's lots of short songs, the way I like it. Let's talk about the instrumentals first - 'Abundance' opens up and it's to me, the signature violin-driven Jonathan Segel piece in the CVB repetoire. I don't know why this one jumps out as me as being so much better than we heard on Telephone Free, except for maybe the weird melting violin solo/bridge. And 'Turtlehead' is a a bit of Sun City Girls-styled spazz-core with another elliptical, middle-Eastern style breakdown in the middle. '4 Year Plan' reprises the ska-style rhythm guitar heard a few times on the last album, but with a very bright crisp recording. Though this record was recorded in multiple studio sessions and with no consistent drummer, it sounds really cohesive - and I guess if Telephone Free was the culmination of a zillion early lineups with twenty different members, II & III is at least a step closer to solid. 'Dust Pan' and 'ZZ Top Goes to Egypt' are beautifully evocative for being brief rock instrumentals,and while 'Circles' may not be strictly instrumental (with backwards singing, a trick they'll employ again on the third album), it's a winner. Now, vocally, Lowery is certainly continuing the witty goofball lyrics, but there's less of a focus on taking the piss out of the punk underground and maybe he's turning his lens towards a more worldly focus. 'No More Bullshit' ends the record wryly commenting 'No more MTV/No more rock stars' before embarking on an epic instrumental jam, worthy of the greatest guitar gods. And sure, there's some chuckles throughout just about every song. I place the misanthropy of 'Don't Go To Goleta' somehow above the nonsense of 'The Day that Lassie Went to the Moon'. Few others would probably make such a distinction, but the fine line of humour in music is tred as carefully as possible to the dark side here, and it never goes over. 'Gonna dress and act like Lou Reed' (in 'Down and Out') is an astute cultural observation here. And the mock-aggression of 'We're a Bad Trip' is absolutely classic status here. (Nerd alert - this copy has the slow version of that tune, which means (I guess) that this is the first pressing, and also I think that Crispy Dersen doesn't play on my copy at all). What a great song, and I prefer it slow - you can hear the pulsing keyboards better, and the descending guitar solo has a bit more breathing room, and no one has ever put the word 'hors d'oeuvres' into a song so well (Roy Harper may have titled a song as such but balked on the actual lyrics). But let's commend the move away from the ha-ha: 'Sad Lovers Waltz' is a CVB classic, and still moving because of it's naivete and amateurishness. One step for anger and one step for pain, indeed. 'Sometimes' is the ultimate Paisley renaissance piece, buried in hesitation and honesty, and arranged with the perfect hazyness. But my absolute favourite track of this album, and probably the most underrated tune in the entire CVB canon, is 'Form Another Stone'. I think it's overlooked because it's buried at the end of this album, which is probably the least well-known of their work, and lacks the ha-ha punchline or the obvious pop hook. But this is a fireball of a track, and one that I will continually cite as inspiration for my young guitar-addled brain. Jonathan Segel's 'Chain of Circumstance' isn't half-bad either. The simple duotone cover and general low-budget feel of this record is another thing that I find amazing -- it's weird that this came after their big hit ('Skinheads') and that they self-released it, but looking at it as a finished product, it's a magnificent statement. If I had come across this LP when I was 14 (instead of a dubbed cassette version, which is what I subsisted on for years until eBay came around) I would have been blown away, because this would have represented everything I dreamt of about "the underground". Hindsight shows this to be far from obscure or difficult, but that doesn't diminish it's greatness in the slightest.

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