Like the apparatus in their name, Camera are able to produce some crisp, delicate work on their third album.
The musicians behind Berlin-based group, Camera, sound as if they should perhaps be the subjects of an offbeat sitcom. One member is a drummer named Michael Drummer, and the other, an experienced film music composer. Camera’s energetic brand of synth-rock is anything but a joke, however, as the group treat us to a retro-inspired collection of tunes on their third record.
Phantom of Liberty opens with “Affenfaust”, which translates literally as “Monkey Fist”, an electro instrumental with a distinct sense of purpose about it. The track is grounded by punchy synth-work, which manages to build a sense of continuity whilst also allowing the band’s experimentation to shine through. The track can thank its organic drum kit-work for its momentum, as Camera remind us that they aren’t just here to make club-friendly music. Eventually, the track dissolves into an ominous affair. This sense of retreat becomes something of a theme for Camera, as they prefer to start with energy and work down from it, rather than the other way around. “Fröhlichkeit” fits the bill here as well, and is similarly grounded by synth-based hooks.
Whilst they certainly have a modus operandi behind their work, Camera are careful not to slip into habit, instead opting to change up tonalities and instruments in order to keep a sense of freshness about their music. The more organic “Festus” is a clear example of this, as bass guitar and drum kit work become more of a focus than synthesizers.
A side effect of their musical formula is that the listener is ushered into feeling as if variants which differ too dramatically are simply out of place. “Nevernine”, for instance, is thrash metal-inspired from the outset, but seems a little at odds with the more intellectual, brooding character of the group’s previous efforts. Equally, tracks that lack the mellow outro of the album’s introduction come across as jarring. “Tjamahal” (that's not a typo) is the guilty party here. In this way, Camera have set themselves up for scrutiny; they articulate a game-plan that everyone seems happy with, before going back on it. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but it does mean that if the tracks which differ from the early material aren’t as effective, we’re all the more ready to be critical of them. This is especially true of “Tribal Mango”, the album’s closing track, which operates as something of an inversion of the previous formula -- the track starts off somberly before building up. The build-up, however, doesn’t really become compelling enough to draw us in, and we’re left wanting more of the raw energy we heard earlier on the record.
That said, while there are moments which seem to lack direction or instrumental mastery, there are instances on this album when Camera prove themselves to be capable of some effective songwriting. The transitions within tracks from tenacity to reserve are clean on almost every occasion, and the band do well to experiment with crafty electronic sounds. The theremin-style synths on “Fröhlichkeit”, for instance, fit in well with the rest of the track, whilst creating variety and showcasing the band’s capacity for technical skill. On the whole, the album certainly succeeds on a track-by-track basis, but when in the company of one another, the tracks are a more than a little bit restless.