Friday, April 17, 2009

Music Library: Califone + Camper Van Beethoven

Califone - Quicksand/Cradlesnakes. Lovely album of indie-aesthetic Americana with random noise bursts. Reminds me a bit of the Centro-Matic spinoff South San Gabriel and a bit of Sparklehorse, which is one of my favorite bands. It's never grabbed me as much as either of those bands, though. I should give it more time.

Camper Van Beethoven:

  • Telephone Free Landslide Victory. An enormously great debut album with CVB's blend of Americana, Eastern European fiddle tunes, Beefheartian jaggery, post-punk DIY smartassery, and the aching sincerity underlying silly-on-the-surface songs like "The Ambiguity Song" (refrain: "Everything seems to be up in the air at this time.") This title includes my original copy of the album, plus mp3s of the bonus tracks from the re-release in 2004. The bonus tracks are from EPs around the time and are mostly utterly dispensable. But the album itself is near-perfect, like most of CVB's catalog.
  • Live at the I-Beam June 2, 1986 (bootleg). I'm not sure why I keep this around, outside of my immense affection for CVB. The name of the later official live album Greatest Hits Played Faster says it all.
  • II & III. My least favorite of the original CVB releases, this one plays up the instrumentals and smartassery and feels like the one with the least depth. This rip is from the 2004 re-release which, like the other re-releases, messes up the flow by inserting the bonus tracks into the heart of the album itself. I could re-arrange it, but I've never bothered to.
  • Third Album/Vampire Can Mating Oven. There's three different albums captured here. The original s/t Camper Van Beethoven, usually called The Third Album, is here in its entirety. There's also the bonus tracks from the 2004 re-release. And there's the EP Vampire Can Mating Oven, which was appended onto my CD copy of the Third Album. All of those tracks appear again on Camper Vantiquities. And the music is CVB at their most experimental and awe-inspiring. I'd go through the highlights, but there's not a wasted moment on this album, even including the backwards fiddle tune "Stairway To Heavan (sic)." My favorite may be "The History of Utah," which tells a mythologized story about Joseph Smith and mixes it with sudden personal observations, all set to a casually psychedelic musical progression from blues through several different parts. Their cover of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive" is a revelation, too.
  • "Guitar Hero." From a flexidisc for Bob magazine, this instrumental pops up again on Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead as "Closing Theme."
  • Greatest Hits Played Faster. A live album that delivers on the promise of its name.
  • Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. A more pop-oriented effort (that's relative, mind you) that retains the CVB psychedelia and lyrical trickiness that leaps from surreal to heartfelt without pausing for breath. Particularly great are the first four tracks: the first two "Eye of Fatima" songs, the reworking of the traditional bluegrass track "Oh Death," and the heavily psychedelic "She Divines Water," although this album is brilliant, start to finish.
  • Key Lime Pie. Sometimes this is my favorite album. It's CVB's most naked appeal for a larger audience, but it's still far too weird to even approach the possibility, at least for 1989. The lyrics seem to be based on the conceit of "The History of Utah," floating around American history with a definitely mythological bent. "When I Win The Lottery," about a down-and-out guy dreaming of what he would do with his winnings, should be the national anthem. Great, great stuff, and newly available on iTunes. Here's a jokey blogpost I wrote about the album for Powell's Books on the 4th of July last year.
  • Camper Vantiquities. A rarities compilation. I don't have the tracks from the re-release. Should do something about that.
  • Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven. Another rarities album, this one from years later. Includes some remixes and new tracks from the classic CVB lineup.
  • Live at the Great American Music Hall 2002 (bootleg). From the time when the band began playing again. This bootleg features nearly 3 hours of music. I think CVB were happy to be a going concern again.
  • Tusk. A track-for-track remake of the Fleetwood Mac album undertaken by the CVB members in the early 00s to see if they could work together again. Not the best thing they've done, but surprisingly touching in parts.
  • New Roman Times. A 2004 concept album from the reformed CVB about a civil war in the US between Texas and California. Weird and sometimes wonderful stuff, but not up to the greatness of their original run of albums.


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