If any of you disparate readers out there are aware of the amusing, pixel-heavy web comic strip Diesel Sweeties, and are familiar with the character of that strip known as Indie Rock Pete, then you might understand why I had to chuckle as I listened to this debut effort from Campground Effect.
If not, then just accept the fact that I don’t mean that as an insult to Ryan, Josh, and John, the three musicians who make up Campground Effect’s posse. There’s nothing humorous about Campground Effect. Nothing at all. And there’s not supposed to be. But there’s just something about wrapping yourself in an Indie Rock flag that smacks of the silly. It’s another classic case of categorization gone awry when something like the hodge-podge of sounds that gets labeled “indie rock” become capitalized (both in letters and in money) and turned into a market label.
But perhaps I’m just reacting to the press release, and should give the band a fair shake. After all, there’s no photo of a band member holding a sign saying, “Hi, we’re Campground Effect and we’re Indie Rock!” or even a quote to the same effect. There’s just the music, and that’s what it’s all about, right? Blame the label publicists and move on.
Still, there’s no doubting that one listen to this disc would make every hack reviewer like myself grab the “indie rock” label and slap it on the band like a sticker on a cheap guitar. Bathed in distortion, dissonance, ambiguity, and inscrutability, Campground Effect create rock music that is heavy but not metal. And for this they probably won’t be a breakout MTV success story, thus earning the “independent” status that passes for true cred these days. These guys even played at the 15th Street Tavern while recording their disc, which for Denver locals like myself is a bar/venue that caters to Mile High “indie” rockers.
If there is one distinctive feature to Campground Effect, it’s that the band plays the stripped-down sound to great advantage. While Ryan and Josh’s off-key vocals may not be clean or pretty, or particularly engaging for that matter, the music compliments this fairly well. Rather than rock out, Campground Effect plays more into the whole slow-core thing by making the space between notes as dramatic as the music itself, especially John’s tight and sparse drumming. On the other hand, this creates an atmosphere were the listener is constantly anticipating a true release of passion, made all the more palpable by Ryan’s muted scream vocals. Maybe it’s the manner in which the album was produced, but all the energy here feels tightly controlled and while such control is admirable, it can be frustrating.
I chalk up the fact that many of the songs are indiscernible from one another to that very control. A song like “Famous-Like” could erupt like a seething volcano, but never does. Sure, that’s probably the point, but when your whole sound is bent around emotion broiling under the surface, it gets to be work to continue listening. To top off the whole maddening affair, most of the songs start on a quick tempo that seems like the change of pace you’ve been waiting for, but each quickly dissolves into somnambulism. There are, for all this, some worthy moments on this disc. “Flu Season” has all the potential for college radio that an “indie rock” (or is that Indie Rock?) band needs. A dark and murky cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Money Changes Everything” is sad, angry and beautiful and evokes absolutely zero retro-80s nostalgia.
Sensitive and wounded “indie” types will probably enjoy this record, and although the blame has been assigned to Glue Factory for sticking the convenient label of the moment on Campground Effect, it’s fairly accurate. To my mind, Campground Effect’s most endearing quality is that they aren’t simply a Weezer knock-off band (even if “Words Recover” teeters on that edge precariously). Perhaps a little more time working as a band, and a little more innovation from within the “scene”, will prove Campground Effect to be minor gem of a band. Time will tell.