Sunday, May 4, 2008

Normally Open (Stained Death Music; 2004)
Published in Aging Youth #17 (June 2005)

by Mark Wong

This has to be one of the surprise releases of the year. Some seven years after we last heard from them, Camra return to the fray with a ten song-strong album, Normally Open, as if not a single day has passed since the release of "Who Wants To Know" on the BigO Singles Club No. 4.

This continuity isn't an illusion: the band, whose lineup has remained unchanged, had been recording the album since 1998.

As it turns out--depending on how one sees it--this is both Camra's strength and weakness. At its best, Normally Open is a beneficiary of time, which has not only sharpened the band's songcraft but also allowed for some very fine recording and production work, capturing perfectly a languid yet lush shoegazer feel. This has resulted in a sonic stew of simmering songs that conjure hallucinatory visions, slow(ly)-burning themselves into your brain.

At its worst, however, Normally Open sounds exactly like what it is: an album released at least seven years too late; somewhat mired in mid-90's Britain, it sounds a tad dated.

Normally Open seems to traverse The Verve's entire career, from muddy A Storm in Heaven dreamscapes (turn up the vocal/guitar reverbs, love) to the sweet, draped stringscrapes of Urban Hymns (the epic nine-minute "My Reflections", for instance, has a wry refrain which foreshadows its symphonic ending: "feel so highly-strung today/don't wanna make it go away").

Any diversions (no matter how slight) are still decidedly Anglophilic: "All Our Remedies'"is a speedier and punchier sibling of Oasis' "Cast No Shadow", which sees vocalist Marvin swaggering as though cheek by jowl with the Gallaghers in a packed tavern. Elsewhere, such as on "Reasons", we get hijacked by sitars and tablas; while I wouldn't go so far as to call this Indian mysticism-by-way-of-Kula Shaker, one can't help but make the connection. Call this Southern Soul, if you will (the thirteenth word of the album is "transcendence": go figure).

The final twist, however, is that as alluded earlier, Normally Open grows on you--if you give it time; it's as if each time you play it, it reveals a little more of its soul to you. Camra have whipped out an accomplished album, if at times stymied by its particularities. This is a band to watch out for--although, hopefully, not just once every seven years.

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