On their fifth album, unsigned Brooklyn indie-rock intellectuals Love Camp 7 offer up a quirky little slice of life with a cast of characters from the group’s collective and individual lives. Populated by figures encountered in the flesh, in newspapers and yellow-paged tomes alike, Sometimes, Always, Never is chock full of odd, relatively unheard of references that will send listeners scurrying towards Wikipedia to discover who the band was talking about. The forgotten lore of neo-folk heroes who otherwise may have been left to the page margins of high-brow, liberal, cocktail party-level obscurity, were it not for Love Camp 7’s name dropping, is ever-present on the disc. Sometimes, Always, Never isn’t just catchy, it’s downright educational.
A melting pot of influences, Love Camp 7’s unique sound combines ‘70s pop rock like The Kinks with a throwback to ‘80s and ‘90s indie rock sensibilities heard in bands like Violent Femmes and R.E.M. Add to that a generous dose of the benign, harmony-rooted sound of the Beach Boys and just a dab of the likeable humor and intellect of early Weezer ... and that about sums them up.
Love Camp 7’s signature calling card is, without a doubt, their lyrics. Somehow, primary lyricist, singer, and guitarist Dann Baker finds a way to cram the most obscure of subject matter into hummable songs and does it well. Notably, “Naming Names” is a brief history of snitching in the 20th century. Accented by some killer, fuzzed-out lead guitar work by Steve Antonakos, the song is an impressively scathing account of the Communist Red Scare of the McCarthy era. No one is safe, from beloved S.A.G. president—and eventual U.S. president—Ronald Reagan to Elia Kazan, regarding their testimony to the House of UnAmerican Activities. Decidedly punkier than most of the tracks on Sometimes, Always, Never, “Naming Names” would get a huge thumbs up from Joey Ramone, as it channels the bouncing bitchslap of “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)”.
From the politics of the past to present, Love Camp 7 gives props to unsung folk heroes and American voices of dissent. The anti-war “Barbara Lee (Is Having No Trouble Sleeping)” lauds the California Democrat as the lone voice in either House of Congress to vote against authorization of military force in the Middle East following the events of September 11th. Echoing traditional protest songs of the ‘60s, with shades of flower power and a mellow message of discontent, Love Camp 7 makes this peace-piece rich with three-part harmonies.
Reaching slightly further back into the annals of American history, Ohio State University student protestor “Jon Strange” has a question for Secretary Albright back in the days of the Clinton administration, at a televised 1998 open-forum town meeting held on campus. A cheerful, peppy recounting of United Nations violations in other countries, Love Camp 7 breaks out the cowbell on this one, while demanding reasons for selective military action.
Not everything on Sometimes, Always, Never is a political tirade, however. Marginal figures get their time in the sun, thanks to Love Camp 7’s lyrical modern folk tales. “The Queen of Whale Cay”, channels The Kinks’ jangling snark while lyrically telling the tale of legendary lesbian boat racer and Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs, who purchased her own island in the Bahamas. (Top that, Bill Gates!)
“Telephone Girl”, praising the unsung heroism of operator Louise Gipe, who in 1928 phoned the residents of the area surrounding the collapsing St. Francis dam and alerted them to evacuate, switches up the pacing. Chock-full of the art-house eccentricities of the Talking Heads, the band’s guitars and drums alternate between placidly plinking away and chugging out an angry (well, as angry as Love Camp 7 can muster) beat on the chorus and bridge. Things wind up with a garage band-esque cacophony of horns blurring with guitars on the song’s coda. On the ecological ode to naturalist “David Gaines”, bassist Bruce Hathaway has ample opportunity to shine and show his chops. The bottom-heavy boom warms up the sound and roots the track firmly—and rather appropriately—in the earth.
Other characters and places come out of nowhere. “Connecticut”‘s gently rambling guitars and thin, yet impassioned vocals nicely showcase Love Camp 7’s tight musicianship, rife with a slew of vocal and instrumental melodies and countermelodies. On “Once Upon a Time Our Valley Was Green”, Baker utilizes his falsetto register on the R.E.M.-iniscent track, beginning on an almost classical sounding note on the wistful, pastoral, little ditty.
The group is rather adept at throwing in musical surprises throughout the course of the disc. “Little Mr. Elephant” yields an unexpected guitar crunch, considering the song’s seemingly fluffy subject matter and Buddhist overtones, while “Muñoz (In the Sunshine)”—an autobiographical tale told from the vantage point of Baker’s cat—is beefed up with a surprising horn section at the end of the track.
Considering their intriguing sound, which marries a host of influences together, and encyclopedic knowledge of current and obscure historical events, it’s odd that Love Camp 7 is unsigned. They bring something completely different to the musical banquet table. Political without being overtly punk, and musically sound, Sometimes, Always, Never is enjoyable from beginning to end, with tracks that grow on you even if they don’t floor you the first couple times. The downside comes unless you’re an reader who commits to memory even the smallest minutiae of either the daily news or the disc’s liner notes (which, thankfully, deliver background on the songs’ references); Love Camp 7 can beat the listener over the head with their intellectualism. Their harmony-laden style and clever cobblings of sound are refreshing, however. And hey, it’s always nice to learn something in a new and enjoyable way.
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