I was contacted by a nice young man named John (Hi, John!) who is a member of an American band called Late Cambrian. John asked if I’d have a listen to the band’s five-track EP, Social Season. When faced with a question like that from a musician, I can’t say no. Ever.
John kindly handed over the EP (thanks, John!), and I listened to the tracks.
This post will be a blow-by-blow account of my initial reactions to the music, both positive and negative. I’m afraid that I ended up writing much more than I had anticipated. Much, much more. And I must warn you: because my reactions were written as I was listening, they’ll probably be grammatically suspect. Sorry about that.
But I’m here to reassure you that, as with every other post I’ve put on this blog, you’re under no obligation whatsoever to read any of it. You can just ignore all the words (there are a lot of them) and simply listen to the music.
Oh, and one more thing: I’d like to apologise to everyone in the band. When I was listening to the music and making my comments, I didn’t know any of the band members’ names. So when I was describing the things I was describing, I was horribly generic as I talked about “the singer” and “the guitarist” and “the drummer” etc. It was terribly thoughtless of me not to find out who played what before I got stuck into the music. Sorry, chaps and chapettes. At least I know your names now. (Hi, John, Nunzio, Colin, and the mysteriously named O!)
Late Cambrian – Social Season EP
1. “Ryan Gosling”
This is an indie-rock kind of song.
I liked the late-1950’s/early-1960’s chord progression.
I liked the guitar sounds.
Niggling Negatives (in The Grand Scheme Of Things, they really are tiny):
All those “Oh! Oh! Oh!”s reminded me of another band – The Killers I think. Or is it The Hives they remind me of? (I’m not really “up” on all these newish rock bands, so I couldn’t say with any authority who sounds like who.) Or maybe it’s The Strokes.
I wasn’t overly fond of the double guitar note bend from 1:51-1:54, where two guitars (one in the left channel, and one harmonising in the right channel) slowly bend their notes upwards. I thought the bend was too slow, and even more annoying for me was that the guitarist in the right channel bent his note slower than the one in the left channel. Unfortunately, it led me to furrow my brow a little.
The lead singer’s ad lib warbling from 3:55-3:59 is, to my ears, extremely dodgy. As far as I can tell, none of the notes he sings in that little bit of melisma is in tune. And the note he ends on is even dodgier than all the notes he sang before it. And one last bit of singer-trashing (sorry about this): I found the lead singer’s little bit of trembling tremelo at the end of the song (4:13) a little disconcerting. (I tried not to giggle.)
But despite the Niggling Negatives, I didn’t mind this track.
2. “Trash Show!”
This is another indie-rock kind of song. It has an off-beat guitar in the left channel making me think it’s trying to be faux-reggae. (I’m probably way off-base there, but whenever I hear a guitar playing on the off-beat I think “Reggae!”.) Speaking of the guitar in the left channel, it plays a little chord riff in various places throughout the song (the first time from 1:00-1:04) that reminds me of something. It’s brought out more during the instrumental section from 3:45-3:49, and it really reminds me of something. I’ll have to think about that. It might be a Rooney song. Or XTC. Hang on…
“Trash Show!” (excerpt, left channel only)
Rooney – “Stay Away” (2003) (excerpt)
But I still think that it might be in an XTC song as well. Or not.
Anyway, besides all of that “It might sound like…” nonsense I should get to the point and say whether I like “Trash Show!” or not.
I like it.
From 2:54 there’s a sort-of guitar solo (it’s more sound effects than actual note selection). As soon as the guitar did those weird swooping sounds it reminded me of Matt Bellamy of Muse, another chappy who uses swoopy guitar sounds in his solos.
Oh-oh. The singer’s trying another bit of melisma when he sings the word “you” (from 3:33-3:37). Oh dear. None of the notes he’s singing here fit the key the song is in. I’m trying not to use the word “dreadful” to describe that warbling, but I think it’s… dreadful. And unfortunately for me, there’s what seems to be a half-hearted “Whoah-oh-oh” at 3:44. But at least I liked all the vocal stuff after that (from 3:53 until the instrumental bit that ends the song). It’s a heap of “Whoah-oh-oh-oh”s, and I like ’em (as well as the bass guitar climbing higher and higher).
I’ve spent way too much time talking about this song, but I do want to mention what I think of the instrumental riffing that ends the song (4:13-4:29). I think it’s neato. I really like the note choices by all three stringed instruments (two guitars and a bass) throughout those riffs. The two guitars play separate lines, and are harmonising with each other, but they manage to also sound independent of each other. Splendid.
3. “Song 11”
This one starts off with a nicely dischordant guitar introduction. (Written approximation of guitar introduction: “Wherrrrrrrr… whah. Wherrrrrrrr… whah.”) And I just noticed the nifty hi-hat work by the drummer while the guitars were being all discordant. The hi-hat work here reminds me of Henry Mancini. (Probably because of all those instrumentals I was listening to last week.)
The introduction has been dispensed with, and now it’s now verse time (0:23). I like how the band decided to not have guitars when the verse started, although it highlighted something I’m not entirely fond of here: the sound of the bass guitar. (It sounds a bit ‘tubby’ to me, as if it has too much low-midrange.)
When the guitars come in for the rest of the verse (0:34-0:42), the whole band does a staccato one-two-three-four thing where the beat is simply one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four etc. It’s jaunty, but it does make me think more of marching than music.
But now at 0:44 we have the chorus. Oh yeah. That’s the stuff. Nice, nice melody. I like that chorus. A lot. Oh yeah.
Aw, nuts – they’ve just added a load of “Oh-oh, oh-oh”s (from 1:05) after the chorus. Sorry about swearing a moment ago (I said “Aw, nuts”), but those “Oh-oh”s took me away from that enjoyable melody and instantly made me think of the Jonas Brothers. It’s not just the Jonas Brothers, but a lot of currently popular tween acts do the chanting thing, whether it’s “Oh-oh”, or “Whoah-oh”, or “Woo-hoo” etc. etc. etc. And it wasn’t just a couple of “Oh-oh”s, it was eight bars worth – or putting that into non-musical terms: 19 seconds. Nineteen. But I did like the guitar’s dischord at the end of those eight bars. (“Wherrrrrrrr”.)
There’s a dinky little guitar solo from 1:31-1:37 that I wouldn’t have minded not being there, but it doesn’t last long.
Straight after that is a different person singing. I’ve been reliably informed (by the band) that the person singing here is Brendan Brown of Wheatus. His guest vocal is from 1:37-2:18 (a verse and a chorus). I’m a little sad to report that Brendan swore during his guest vocal. I’m afraid that here I’m going to do yet again what I do when confronted with swearing in a rock song: let you know that I generally don’t like swearing in songs. For me, there’s only one exception to my no-swearing-in-songs-please preference, and that’s a song called “Come Clean” by Splendid. The swearing in it is both contextual and necessary. And I love that song.
It’s now 2:18 and now Brendan and the band are all doing the “Oh-oh” thing. Eighteen seconds later and they’ve all finally stopped going “Oh-oh, oh-oh…”. As soon as that stopped, a guitar came along and played a bizarro two-note riff. I like it. By the way, at 2:38 the lead singer (not Brendan) says “Yeah Brendan, take us home” to which Brendan (presumably) slides his pick down the strings of his guitar and then plays a messy solo. Actually, at 2:47 the solo becomes organised because someone’s playing harmony guitar along with him. It’s enjoyable in a we-sound-like-Queen kind of way except for the wrong note played at 2:49 (unless it was deliberate, and if it was then I apologise wholeheartedly for casting aspersions on your choice of note there).
From 3:04-3:21 there’s a little quiet vocal interlude (with a very pleasant young lady singing harmony), and then the band cranks up the volume for another round of “Oh-oh, oh-oh”s. And then the song stops, and I stop commenting on it.
4. “Hand Stamp”
Another slightly reggae-ishy track. I like this. I like the “bup, bup, bup, bup”s from the backing vocals. They’re cute.
I like the chorus, too (1:07-1:28), even though the singer sneaks in a superfluous “Woah-oh-oh” at 1:18 (this band sure does like its “Whoah-oh”s). Oh, I just misheard a lyric: from 1:23-1:25 I thought the singer sang “Another cute hamster runs up the door”. I have a feeling he didn’t though, because the song is called “Hand Stamp”, not “Hamster”. Hang on, I’ll have another listen and try to figure out what he’s actually singing…
Nope. It still sounds like “Another cute hamster runs up the door” to me. Well, whatever he’s singing there I prefer what I heard. (I like any song that mentions hamsters.)
I really like the unexpected vocal note choices at the end of the phrase from 1:41-1:43, especially that harmony note at the end. Great choice of note. And ther are some of those cute “bup, bup, bup, bup” backing vocals. I’m beginning to think this is my favourite song on the EP.
At 2:48 the song changes direction a little as the band plays a moody middle section accompanied by wordless singing. This section has a few little productions that I enjoyed (a guitar playing octaves; a backwards cymbal at 3:02-3:04 that moves from the centre channel to the left; a few harmonics here and there).
However (sorry to keep bringing up the ‘however’s), during this middle section I wasn’t fond of the sound effect on the lead singer’s voice from 3:19-3:35. It sounds like the same effect that was always used on The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas – i.e., slightly distorted and foghorny. I don’t know why some producers use that effect. I suppose it’s there to elicit some kind of emotional response in the listener, but for me I just think “Oh, it’s that sound again.”
But back to what I like about the song:
I like how the band decided to go back to the chorus (from 3:38). I really like the four drum fills in the repeat of the chorus (between 4:02 and 4:18). And I love the guitar harmonics in the right channel at 4:29. Magic. (Extreme Trivia: at 4:39 the guitarist in the right channel does the harmonics thing again but this time the last note doesn’t ring which makes me wonder if it was a mistake. More Trivia: the guitarist gets extra-frisky with the harmonics at 4:49-4:50 whilst the drummer gets frisky with a fill as well.)
5. “Saint James”
An instrumental. And it’s moody. It has a moody beat, some moody guitars, and there’s one guitar that has lots of echo and delay on it which makes it sound to me like it could be an early Cure track. Someone says something at 0:52-0:54 that may or may not be backwards. (Moody.) Someone, possibly, the drummer is doing some percussive tapping from 1:19 all the way to 2:38, even while there’s a guitar solo going on (from 2:07 to 2:38). I don’t know what it is, but all that tapping sounds to me like a typewriter. Is someone typing a letter in this song? The band takes a break from 2:38 to 3:20 while the ultra-echoey guitar continues noodling away at its solo. Everyone comes back in at 3:20, and the guitar is still soloing, but now the band’s playing a little more unusual, throwing in a few backwards sounds. For me, it’s starting to resemble something a bit techno. (Trip-Hop? Acid House? Hip-Dope? I know next to nothing about techno.)
This track finishes with the sound of the recording’s master tape being slowed down to nothing. (Although I suspect it was all recorded digitally and no tape was used, so it was probably a digital effect you dial up in the studio’s software.)
I thought that track was certainly an interesting way to finish an EP.
And that’s it. I’ve finished.
Overall, I’m happy to say that the more I listened to the EP the more I liked it.
I’m now officially at the “I like this EP” stage.
Thanks, Late Cambrian, for letting me hear your songs.