Psychedelic grooves and electronic cumbia fusions shine on Miracles & Criminals, an album that never quits (even when it probably should).
It's hard to keep track of everything that goes on over the course of Miracles & Criminals. The first album from Chicha Libre member Joshua Camp's newest project, C.A.M.P.O.S. (a handy abbreviation for Cumbias and More Psychedelic Original Sounds), delivers pulsing psych grooves and electronically enhanced cumbia, as well as straightforward calls to the dance floor, plaintive folk vocals, and tropical indie rock. All in all, there are thirty-one tracks on the two-disc album, and each one of them is well-crafted—if not all equally necessary.
There are plenty of true gems here, to be sure. “Teosinte” might be one of the purest and most psychedelic songs of the year; it's a heady track named for wild Mesoamerican corn and imbued with an almost ancient feeling somewhere among the electric guitars. A call of “Teosinte!” speaks to and from the soul while synths ramp up and launch the whole song into the stars. Elsewhere, “Dream of the Bell Flower” leans away from heavy psych and toward earthy, familiar rhythms, whereas hipster dance cut “Shake Up The World” very nearly forgoes the Amazonian motif altogether during a catchy chorus that sounds a little like 2008 MGMT, though the instrumentation in between those choruses is still lush and Latin-inspired. “My Bird Has Many Voices” even shows up in two differently accompanied, though both sweet and simple, versions.
Much of this music comes from Camp's reserves, from bulking up unfinished pieces and tweaking music that didn't fit with any of his other projects, and while it ably demonstrates the impressive depth and breadth of what he can produce, it often sounds like a portfolio rather than a polished album. Miracles & Criminals is desperately in need of paring down; offering half as many tracks, if not fewer, would tell twice as compelling a story.
With that said, each track on its own is interesting, and while they don't all make for a punch-packing whole, it's easy to imagine every song having a time and place, be it on a separate album or even as part of some Morricone-inspired movie soundtrack. It's not a leap to picture fast-moving instrumentals like “El Capitalista 72” or “Presión” accompanying antiheroes on thrilling capers through the Americas, and twangy “The Devil is a Charmer” feels like the triumphant ride into the sunset every outlaw hopes to take. “You better run, baby / Run, baby / Run, baby / Run, baby, run”, sings Camp, and that's exactly where the credits should roll.
Miracles & Criminals is not a matter of wasted potential. C.A.M.P.O.S. hits plenty of high notes and doesn't spend time on the sub-par. It's simply too heavy and too much for a single album, and trying to sit down and listen to it all the way through -- to become fully immersed in such a dense repertoire -- is hard. Joshua Camp comes off as passionate and curious in his deft explorations of different styles and cultures, but this album feels like a compilation of greatest hits and previously unreleased sketches, and it's not time to memorialize Camp's career in that way. He has much more to show, and the brightest spots of C.A.M.P.O.S. are proof positive of that.