Album Review: A Camp “Colonia”

Recently, I was sent the newest album by Nina Persson-fronted band A Camp, mostly because I am a big fan of their initial album, and the single “I Can Buy You”, which I talked about in another post.  Thanks to Stunt Company, the band’s American promotion company for sending the disc.  And good news; this is a fantastic album.

A Camp lead singer Persson recently moved from her native Sweden to New York City, having married Shudder to Think’s Nathan Larson who also fills out the line up.  Perhaps it’s this that inspired the title of A Camp’s newest album Colonia, having shifted from what might be considered the Old World, to the New World, sometimes called ‘The Colonies” by some even today.  And where this is not a concept record about the contrasts between one world and another, there is certainly undercurrents to be found in a song like “My America”, which captures the idea that a new place can seem both fascinating and disorienting at the same time.

The overall sound here is more focused than the band’s eponymous debut, which is not to say it’s a better record, necessarily.  But, you get the sense that the group has finally landed on a musical neighbourhood patch, rather than the sonic road trip they’d been on while cutting their debut.  There are fewer country-rock textures here than there were on that debut. The textures here on this new disc are a bit more orchestral, with real strings and brass accentuating the guitars-bass-piano-drums, and electronics.

What they’ve created is a smart, grown-up strain of pop music, with singer Persson at the very centre of it all.  Her voice is some of the best singing I’ve heard from her, including her work with the Cardigans.  Her voice is perfectly positioned on every track, fitting in comfortably into each of the songs, maybe most strikingly on the single “Stronger Than Jesus”, which you can hear here. Other stand-out tracks are the Beatle-esque “Chinatown”, the string-laden and melancholic “It’s Not Easy To Be Human”, and the album opener, “The Crowning”.

There is something classicist about this album, with a strong emphasis on songwriting and strong melodies more so than a simple study in stylistic excursion.  And it belongs firmly to the writers as a result, with nods to the band’s influences (The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, The Sundays), yet easily avoiding pastiche.  It helps that musical guests are heavyweights in their own right, including Joan Wasser (AKA Joan As Policewoman), Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, original A Camp-er Mark Linkous, and sought-after cellist Jane Scarpantoni, among others.

The only criticism that might be levelled at the band is that they gave fans quite a wait for this excellent disc. Yet, perhaps this gestation period is a part of why it is so focused, why the songs are so richly realized, and why they seem to belong together as an album.

For more information about A Camp, including tour dates (they’re coming my way in mid-June!), check out the band’s website,  ACamp.net.

And of course for more music, be sure to check out the A Camp MySpace page.

Enjoy!

A Camp Performs ‘I Can Buy You’

a_camp_-_a_campHere’s a clip from The Cardigans’ Nina Persson, Atomic Swing’s Nicholas Frisk,  and Sparklehorse‘s Mark Linkous, AKA A Camp with their 2001 radio-friendly country rock throwback track ‘I Can Buy You’ as featured on their self-titled debut album.

When it came out, this track reminded me of 1970s radio, specifically country rock as inspired by Neil Young, America, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and Seals and Crofts, among others. Whether or not this is what they were going for might be arguable.  But, the use of the harmonica and lap steel works very strongly in my favour, I think.

One thing which I think our current decade has done is to allow artists to throw anything into the pot, with almost half a century of rock traditions from which to choose.  I think too that the choice to change direction even within the running time of a single album is also pretty much the norm now too, which is also a big checkmark in the A column when it comes to music made in recent years.  And this is certainly true here with this band, made up of 90s bands which can be found on differing points on the pop/rock scale, yet still interested in what makes good pop music no matter what the pool of influences are .

The Cardigans, for instance, were firmly in the realm of indie-pop, with a monster hit in 1996 in ‘Lovefool’ as featured on the Romeo + Juliet (10th Anniversary Edition).  Sparklehorse tend to be a little less recognized as a pop group, with a bit more emphasis on lo-fi texture rather than pop hooks.  Yet Persson and Linkous have created something entirely other from their primary bands, mostly due to how much emphasis they’ve placed on pop songwriting.

Collaborations in rock music tend to be one-offs, counted as side projects, and sometimes not given much artistic credence.  Yet to me, this song was one of my favourites of 2001, which was a storming year for music.

Be sure too to check out the band’s newest record, Colonia, now featuring new member and Persson’s husband Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think.

Enjoy!