Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Campfire OK - Strange Like We Are

A lot of comparisons are being drawn in the press between Campfire OK and the Fleet Foxes. Both bands are from the Seattle area, and both bands put their distinct mark upon that rather nebulous music genre known as Americana. Sure, Campfire OK skirts along the peripherals like their more famous counterparts and deliver a sound that is very unlike the basic primers most artists provide when they want to dip into the "American music" songbook. But apart from a very fox-like title cut, the debut CD from this quartet blazes its own trail and sounds rich, calm and mature in a way that few new bands do.

Strange Like We Are, on the Ana-them label, is filled with the sounds of banjos, brass and delicate harmonies, but it's the vocals that will remind you more of Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie--another band that hails from Washington--than anything. Add a living, pulsing piano that provides nearly all of the momentum to these songs (mostly notably in the opener, the dreamlike "We Lay in Caves") and you have a band that isn't sloppy or threadbare, as is the current fashion. With rolling, intricate percussion, Campfire OK achieves an overall sound that is much like a river flowing with steady density, richness and power.

The band members only go by their last names--even on their Facebook page. Van Der Speck plays bass and vocals, Dagworth plays percussion, Hannigan plays banjo and brass, Goodweather plays piano and vocals and Exworthy is on keyboards and vocals. In one interview, the band members made a point of saying that while they all studied musical instruments when they were younger, they wound up playing completely different instruments as Campfire OK. I'm not sure what that adds or subtracts to the music since this quintet is clearly accomplished, but it's certainly an interesting little tidbit. If anything, these guys are cultivating an enigmatic vibe.

So if you're hanging on tight for the next Fleet Foxes album (which should arrive early next year), this album will help you get your fix. But that shortchanges Campfire OK in the long run. This band is distinctive enough to merit its own place in the folk/americana/indie world, and hopefully they'll make it based upon the music of this superb album. Personally, I put it on my top ten for the year.

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