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Review

CAMP.30 leads the way down roads less travels on his Self-Titled album

Not two months since the release of his highly anticipated debut album – which we had the honour to present in fullCamp.30 (nee Michael Abercrombie) returns with another collection of surreal, outre, and altogether other-worldly songs. While the first collection, Eyes Only, was distinctly slotted in the dark R&B genre, albeit entirely instrumental, his self-titled psalter of utterly bizarre pieces, is distinctly more formless and experimental.

The trademark Camp.30 ethereal voices wade in and out of the background, and his ever-intricate drum patterns snip away with infectious capability, but there is something plainly different in the atmospheres being presented here. The heart-broken and always cocky Toronto sound that was present on his first full length, and all through his work with PLAZA, hasn’t necessarily been discarded, but clearly placed to the side in favour of something vastly grander.

The opening composition, “Lord Knows”, demonstrates that Abercrombie is an artist at the peak of his abilities. Presenting a stoic and determined sound, open cymbals chime away in a victorious manner that at times hearken back to when hip-hop artists used to perform with live drummers. Bleak synths enter and leave with fascinating melody lines and the straight-faced affair ends all too soon. It is immediately apparent to any and all remotely familiar with his work that this is going to be a unique experience.

When the second song “Doctor What” kicks in, we’re digested deeper into this void, and all expectation of norms should be immediately thrown out. Maniacal laughter calls out from the dark and immediately horrific harmonies, not unlike the work of Claudio Simmonetti, overwhelm the listener. Backed with a classic and slightly distorted bass, this is an effortless blend of what the subconscious expects from this music, and sheer innovation.

After a cut-throat start, the album shifts in to a meticulously chosen and contemplative cruise control. The darkness is omnipresent, but the bombast of the opening salvo is replaced with an ice-cold passage in the dark. Through “M5s”, “Down Again”, and “Grand Stand”, we see a clinical demonstration of Camp.30’s grasp of not just this genre, but too the dark ambient genre. Fantastic and constantly shifting drum production is supported by a soaking wet, under-lying ambience complete with choirs of ghosts, barely audible pads that enrich the songs on several levels, and add a level of care to a genre that sadly often exists for mass production.

Through all of this, there is never the sense of abandonment that is often felt when an artist explores new territory. At its heart it’s still distinctly Camp.30. However, when “SEQ (Interlude)” hits, something happens. Less like the Toronto sound, electronic sound, 40, Ill Angelo, or anything even slightly related to dark R&B, and more closely resembling a Philip Glass synthesizer, it is a brilliant piece that is fully outside of, and alien to, anything the man has released before as Camp.30, and more like his work with North Atlantic Drift (though distinctly quicker in pace). It is a fascinating and poignant piece, that all at once shows why Camp.30 is a pioneering Canadian artist, and shows why much of his music might never cross that thin line to true stardom – it is simply too smart and detailed for mass consumption.

And, as though ripped from a dream, we return to the extra-terrestrial horror of the album’s opening on “Northern Lights”. A demented flute line bums out the top melody of the album, with a hypnotizing, snake-charming sound.

Camp.30 is showcased at his best here, with a total fearlessness to experiment, switch tempos, change rhythms, swap atmospheres mid-song feature weird instruments, and quite plainly do whatever the fuck he wants. Whether he’s being irresistibly catchy, or questionably weird, it’s never forced. The natural flow of the album and its denizens is simply remarkable.

If Eyes Only was a calm first-date where he was afraid to reveal just how strange he really was, on this self-titled disc, you’ve been invited back to his house, and you are shocked at the amount of human bones, incense, taxidermy animals, and chandeliers everywhere.

Obviously you’ll be coming back.

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Premiere

Fall Into Long Nights & Madness: CAMP.30 full album stream

Having risen to notoriety as the producer behind the dark and futuristic r&b/ambient act PLAZA, CAMP.30 quickly gained recognition for his lush and immersive pieces. Songs from their first EP, ‘One’, already had listeners intrigued, but when ‘Shadow’ was released, it became just how clear the level of detail and technicality put in to CAMP.30’s work is.

With PLAZA’s unique and nocturnal aesthetic already feeling distant and impenetrable, CAMP.30 seemed even further hidden; a faceless, nameless director somehow harnessing this ability to effortlessly distill and perfect these lecherous and depraved slabs of r&b. As he has slowly trickled out more presentation of who CAMP.30 is, it has only gotten more intriguing.

Rich with a bizarre aura created largely through outre photographs and grainy footage, filled with covered faces, abandoned houses, and desperate drives through the night, the imagery released wouldn’t seem out of place in a David Lynch film.

Given his known role as one half of the long-running ambient project, North Atlantic Drift, neither the careful and meticulous procedure behind his droning blanket of sound, nor the slow pace at which he was revealing what he had in store came as a surprise.

Slowly, but surely, more and more material surfaced- a photo here, a song-snippet there, an uneasy video- and little by little it became clear that he was gearing up to release his own solo album. The prospect of hearing the same eerie, but satin smooth r&b with no consideration having to be taken over where the vocals would socket in was immediately tempting.

The album is nothing short of a masterclass in detailed production of electronic music. Shifting, warping passages spew out an endless barrage of evocative vignettes, painting pictures of lust and loss, insanity and secrecy. Where we are used to hearing PLAZA’s crystalline voice over CAMP.30’s bouncing snare, this time it’s whirling and incomprehensible voices to come off like lost memories of failure and faint hopes of renewal.

The pace of the album builds perfectly from the catchy but worry inducing ‘Madness’, which sets the correct tone instantly, across simultaneously pitch black but effervescent middle tracks like ‘Heaven So Blue’ and album highlight ‘The Mental Assassin’, the latter of which featuring some unforgettable Spanish guitar which returns as a theme later on. The close of the album delineates the utter feeling of harsh winter and loneliness, distinctly ditching all shreds of hope after the radio-worthy ‘Split’, and plummeting headlong in to the doom-ridden and gloomy closing trifecta of ‘Long Night’, ‘Winter Baby’, and ‘Final Act’. Here we see the aesthetic that CAMP.30 has worked so hard to cultivate best represented. Mesmerizing, long pans of booming synths, inescapable reverb, and subdued drums paint grand vistas of despair. You realize that all hope of conquering and forgetting past shame is gone, and the long night has set in.

It comes as no shock that musically the album picks up where PLAZA’s ‘Shadow’ left off, but now the paths fork. Whereas his material with ‘PLAZA’ is the city; sleepless night and haggered days, licentious indiscretions, and all the strange games we play; and his material with North Atlantic Drift is some lost passage of time; total weightlessness and abandonment of all sense of being; his material here is a a flawless, if incidental, blend of the two sounds: isolation, internal reflection, and a clear hope to forget the past. Crushing, droning, instrumental r&b, with no chance of redemption in sight.