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26 September 2010

Camper Van Beethoven - 'Telephone Free Landslide Victory' (Independent Projects)

Telephone Free Landslide Victory is a great way to open up the Camper Van Beethoven section of this vinyl accumulation, particularly this original pressing on Independent Projects (number 824 out of 125), which is adorned absolutely beautiful screenprinted artwork. And this is the way the album should be heard -- not that 2004 CD reissue that they screwed up the sequencing on! The Camper Van Beethoven conundrum is pretty much laid out here both visually and musically. The screenprinting is aesthetically elegeant, but with a jarring dayglo orange ink juxtaposed against the muted earthen tones underneath. Likewise, Dave Lowery's bitingly droll songs are a bit confusing when juxtaposed with the instrumental ethnicky Morricone-kinda sounds that fill up more than half of this album. It integrates to me, in my brain, but I've been listening to this album for over 15 years. You gotta understand how appealing this was to me as a teenager - humour, pop hooks, and attitude with musical chops and open-mindedness. And most people never hear anything beyond 'Take the Skinheads Bowling' and 'Wasted', but that's fine, cause those are pretty killer jams. I of course went the wrong way 'round and heard the CVB version before the Black Flag original, so I was less impressed by Jonathan Segel's perfect rendering of Ginn's guitar solo than I should have been. It wasn't until years later after getting into psychedelic music, both dark and bright, that I realised how excellent early CVB is at rejoicing in psychedelic forms. Though this emerges more on the (superior, in my opinion) II & III, listening to 'Oh No!' is a good start. The instrumentals are bouncy and confident, with Chris Molla's guitar leads or Segel's keyboards often interacting in a way that is demonstratively brash. 'Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China' is maybe their most-loved instrumental tune, which is why it stayed constant in their setlists all the way to the present day, and why not? It's a great song, one that I tried to play violin along to back when I was learning violin. '9 of Disks' has searing, minor key voicings and a weird, spooky ambience that makes it another enduring classic. 'Skinhead Stomp' blends perfectly into 'Tina', the aburdist folkform reduction complete with goofball singing. It's a trace of Sun City Girls though I guess they probably weren't orbiting each other yet. The story is that these was a ragtag bunch of musical prankster college kids, inhabiting the same cultural space as Black Flag and whatnot, but quickly pushing against the limitations of that culture and extending their middle finger through musical iconoclasm. I don't think that's untrue, but I think there's more to iconoclasm than just having funny lyrics that reference kicker boots and the Circle Jerks. 'Payed Vacation - Greece' might be more of an F.U. than anything else, but were they aware of this at the time? When viewed as a whole career, one narrative in the Camper Van Beethoven story is the emerging confidence of D. Lowery as a brilliant expressive songwriter. On Telephone Free, he's still hiding behind a smirk the whole time. Though 'Take the Skinheads Bowling' was a college radio hit not just because it was funny and nonsensical, but because it is a brilliant pop song. I still get insanely happy when I hear it, and I've heard it a million times. Look, I love this stuff far more than I should (and I know far more about this band that most people would even care). It's true that I'd take Key Lime Pie's 'June' over 'Where the Hell is Bill?' 10 times out of 10, but that doesn't mean I don't have soft spot in my heart for this. And 'The Ambiguity Song' should get mentioned here since it didn't elsewhere -- I fell asleep to the (original) CD of this album one night in 1996 -- my CD player was screwed up and that song looped all night long, which probably explains a lot about my mental state today. I had a dream, it was about nothing!

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