Camber: Wake Up and Be Happy

Jeremy Schneyer


Wake Up and Be Happy

Label: Deep Elm
US Release Date: 2002-04-09
UK Release Date: 2002-05-13

With their debut and sophomore releases on Deep Elm records, NYC four-piece Camber found themselves in the uneasy position of being in possession of a sound that virtually defined the much-maligned term "emo". Thing is, they were really good at it! Barry Lott was equally adept at anguished screaming and wounded crooning; his and Corby Caldwell's guitars gnashed fiercely, and the rhythm section of Chris Chin (drums) and Joey Dellacroce (bass) was agile and nimble, but also capable of delivering a fine pounding to the cranium.

However, it seems that all emo bands must, at one point or another, cave into the pressures of no longer being emo bands. Most of them have resolved this difficulty by attempting to morph into something approximating OK Computer-era Radiohead, with varying degrees of success. Camber, however, has decided to go the opposite route, and smooth out the knotty time changes and loud/soft dynamics that characterized their earlier work in favor of a more streamlined, less complicated, more straightforward sound.

There are also several personnel changes on Wake Up and Be Happy: drummer Chin has been replaced by Roger Coletti, and ace producer John Agnello, who helmed the sessions for both Beautiful Charade and Anyway I've Been There, Camber's first two records, has been replaced by some guy named Wayne Dorell. The latter of these replacements is particularly damaging to the band's sound -- while Agnello knew exactly what to do with Camber, resulting in crisp, clean recordings where every instrument was audible, Dorell, unfortunately, seems less practiced, and allows the band's sound to devolve into murk. Lott's and Caldwell's guitars, in particular, are much less distinct than on previous recordings, and in general, the record suffers from a rather muddy recording quality.

While the replacement of Chin with Coletti is less obvious than the producer swap detailed above, it certainly also results in a change in the band's sound, and I can't help but wonder how much Coletti had to do with the more straightforward sound that Camber tries on this time around. Chin was a jazzy, fancypants drummer, with all kinds of tricks up his sleeve. Coletti, on the other hand, prefers a plodding 4/4 to anything more interesting. While he's far from bad, and keeps time in an adequate fashion, he never quite excels. One of the most important things a heavy guitar rock band like Camber can have in their arsenal is an innovative, imaginative drummer, and unfortunately, they seem to have lost that when they lost Chin.

So, on to the songs. The record opens up with "Devil You Know", which, in addition to conjuring up unwanted images of early '90s one hit wonders Jesus Jones, also serves as an introduction to Camber's new sound. More obviously catchy than anything they've ever done, "Devil You Know" is probably the obvious choice for a single, and also sounds very little like anything else on the record. Seemingly an ode to complacency ("The devil you know beats the devil you don't/Though the offer does sound ace, I might miss my job, my place her face/What I do know is I just don't know/Can't just go leaping into space . . . I will decide/That I won't decide"). Here, Lott abandons his trademark croon 'n' scream style of singing, and sort of combines the two sides of his vocal personality to come up with a scratchy-voiced middle ground with a slight faux-Brit affectation that sounds more than a little bit like the Actionslacks' Tim Scanlin. This song marks the introduction of a less arty, more blue-collar version of Camber; one that, perhaps, thinks its new sound will allow it greater degrees of commercial success. While I will admit that "Devil You Know" is a catchy rock song, I honestly expect more from these guys than mere catchy rock songs.

The record's second track, "Short Sleeve", dives headfirst back into the Camber sound of old, with Lott sounding like a different singer altogether from the first track. The song is good, but it suffers from the muddy production that consistently plagues the rest of the record. It sounds oddly muffled, and serves to minimize the impact of a track that could potentially have been as powerful as anything else they've ever done.

Much of the rest of the record, unfortunately, suffers from leaden, unimaginative riffs and plodding drumbeats. Some of the songs, such as the title track, might be superficially catchy, but you'll realize while idly humming these songs to yourself that just because a song gets stuck in your head doesn't necessarily mean that you want it there. Songs like "Darling Daughter" and "Expat" join "Short Sleeve" in taking a stab at recapturing the glory of Camber's first two records, but are once again brought down by the muddy production, unimpressive drumming, and a general lack of the ferocious loud/soft dynamics that made their first two records so engaging.

While a band definitely needs to tweak its sound occasionally to keep itself fresh and vital, Camber seems to have turned the knob in the wrong direction. While Wake Up and Be Happy might be more accessible to a mainstream audience than their previous work has been, I don't believe that Camber has made the transition without adversely affecting the quality of their music. In an effort to smooth out the dissonance and rough edges that characterized their earlier efforts, they've also managed to bowdlerize the most interesting facets of their sound. Wake Up and Be Happy is not a bad record -- I've heard far worse so far this year. However, it simply does not measure up to their previous work. It remains to be seen whether or not this is merely a stylistic detour that Camber will rebound from, or the first sign of a band entering its years of decline.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.