The Road to Kamakura


I met Nick online, six years ago on Songfight. He was kind enough to send me an appreciative email about one of my forays into triphop, and after a few weeks we collaborated on some tracks.

He with no musical training but an instinctive ability to sing and play guitar, keyboards and drums, plus lots of studio experience. And me with, erm, lots of theory and no practical knowledge. He encouraged me to try singing and writing songs - and it's thanks to him that I'm still trying to do that now.

He also had a band - Kamakura. I've heard their demos, seen them play live, carried their amplifiers up a staircase...and now had a sneak preview of their new album, Dealing with Liquids.

You can get your own smaller sneak preview at their website, largely under construction but coming soon. The least I can do is write a review.

1) Courage

How many ways are there to be in love with someone you can't have? I don't know either, but it's a recurrent Kamakura theme, and the album kicks off with one variation.

Shuffling downtempo hiphop backbeat, crisp strummed acoustic guitar, big electric guitar chords on the chorus, and a drawbar organ thickening the harmonies...from the description it sounds like updated prog rock, down to the leftfield spoken samples and spacy synth effects at the end.

The reason it sounds like that, is that's broadly what it is. There's even an extended pregnant chord on a fair imitation of an ARP Solina, straight out of that song about Crazy Shining Diamonds.

There's four decades of influences on this disc, melded together surprisingly harmoniously, into something that sounds a bit like a lot of other bands, but not very like any of them.

Putting this track first was the right choice. It's the earworm.

2) Pink Skirts

Nick does anguish well. In song I mean - think Andy Bell's intonations in David Bowie's voice. But this song isn't about hopeless love or broken hearts at all - and actually I think it suffers from it.

The instrumentation is piano driven, building with rock ballad guitars and understated synth chords. There's also a bridge featuring odd wailing backing voices a la Dark Side of the Moon.

Maybe I just like miserable songs, but the happy message, whimsically clunky lyrics ("Though I'm not a synesthete, if you could turn your smiling face into a colour, the colour would be gold") and meandering structure make it feel aimless, unfinished.

3) Piece of the Heat

This and "Courage" both started as Songfight challenges - as did "Sincerity Machine", "Gin or Ginseng" and "Spring of Teal". My piece of heat song was a falsetto suicide story which no one seemed to get. This one's about...seamy and steamy Lust.

With an anthemic sing-along chorus that just begs for a slightly stoned crowd in flowery shirts to sway with their hands in the air.

4) Sincerity Machine

More Lust, more anguish, more hopeless emotion. Ever met someone in a chatroom and talked each other into considering a plane ticket so you can shag/live together?

I didn't realise when I heard the rough demo years ago, how smart the lyrics are. "Getting jiggy by broadband is just the latest way to wreck your life.". "Who's playing who in this minefield of online desire?".

Musically it's on the bare side, with just rock and bass stabs in the verses, with the now familiar real drums, acoustic and electric strums, drawbar and piano kicking in for the chorus, with occasional electronic noises, and a stripped down singing-harmonies-with-self bridge.

Here's a live version I filmed:

video

5) Gin or Ginseng

There's no love like the first. Which means there's no loss like the first either. And if you never quite fall out of love, you never quite recover from losing it.

The tempo is just a few BPM slow for me - something which I find in about half the songs on the CD.

6) One Voice

A power ballad - albeit with a chillout beat - with long screaming guitar solo, and slow building to multiple peaks.

A Kamakura power ballad , which means bathos in the lyrics ("One small voice...tells me the truth, no matter how much it hurts. Everybody needs someone to wash their shirts") and melancholy in the singing.

7) Spring of Teal

Contrast with "Gin or Ginseng". Online love is insane, but sometimes it's real love, and all love is insane anyway.

I find it odd that this most heartfelt song should end with a little coda of the musicians laughing in the studio.

Live:

video

8) Train

I'm thinking...Genesis circa 1978. Sound effects, long intro, scratchy electric guitar breaks punctuating vocal segments, and musical twiddles borrowed from folk rock.

The mood of the lyrics is optimistic, reflected in the jaunty, jolly, somewhat jazzy piano line.

Albums may no longer have A sides and B sides, but they do often divide into two approximate halves, with different moods. This marks the start of side B - more mellow and happy than side A.

9) Love Song

There's a very particular close echoing reverb on the vocals that Roxy Music liked to use with Bryan Ferry on uptempo tracks like Virginia Plain. They've got it here.

The live version...doesn't have Brian Eno's production tricks:

video

10) Hey Kids

It's a 70s show tune!

One of the tricks used at various points on the album is to alternate lines between a clean single voice, and phased, chorused, falsetto backing vocals like a psychedelic Beegees. Here it's the main structuring principle of the song.

The rock chords are a little odd, cutting out and in at rhythmically jarring moments. I think this is also the most Aladin Sane-like track.

11) Joanna

Begins with dark bass piano, slow triphop beat, arpegiations from one of those two-ton four-grand 70s synths that sound like a 90s video game...then transitions in and out of the relaxed sound of the previous three tracks.

12) Dealing with Liquids

Ah, the title track. The one which is supposed to glue all the others together.

Also, the final track, the traditional place for the song which doesn't fit anywhere else.

It's both. A frantically sequenced bleeping drawbar organ, supporting a thoughtful, simple song...intersperced with spoken word and washing sci-fi sound effects.

Overall...

Emotional singing has to be done very well or not at all - because if it's done badly, it sounds insincere and annoying. At every moment, it sounds sincere.

Some songs are more memorable than others - "Courage", "One Voice", "Spring of Teal" - but I wouldn't call any of them filler. As you can tell, I did run out of things to say for the later tracks though.

You couldn't describe the Kamakura sound as minimal, but it never gets thick. Every instrument is cleanly delineated, even under the dominant vocal. More Alan Parsons Project than The Who.

The result is that, although all the frequency bands are well represented because the producer knew what he was doing, it never gets really big - and there were times when I think it could have done with more layering, or a single instrument cutting aggressively through a bath of backing.

Kamakura describe themselves as an indie band. Well, I'm of the generation that thinks of indie as the ground between My Bloody Valentine and the pop incarnation of The Beloved.

I'd say this is a mellow sounding - but emotionally raw - updated prog rock album, filling the gap between the chilled lounge sound and bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol.

4 comments:

  1. Great review. You should do more - you have a real knack for it.

    Enjoyed the live versions.

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  2. That's pretty cool, knowing a band and doing a review. Nice. Very nice. I'll keep an eye out for them.

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  3. WOW! I'm quite blown away. Thank you so much Kapitano! At least I now know what genre we fit into (I've always found deciding on genre a hideously difficult job). At most I have an excellent and legitimate crit to wave about. ;)

    Cheers,

    Nick

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  4. @Household Goddess:

    You should do more - you have a real knack for it.

    If anyone's in a band and wants my dubious opinion, just send me a CD and a bar of chocolate.



    @Eroswings:

    That's pretty cool, knowing a band and doing a review.

    A few years ago I was the "third-and-a-halfth" member of a band called "The Strict Machines" - a flameno-goth-skatepunk combo. Yes.

    Their live show got good reviews in the local press. Possibly helped by the lead singer's sister being music correspondant :-).

    The singer got described as "a baby-doll goth-vamp" in the first review. Which oddly enough, fits.



    @Nick:

    I'm quite blown away.

    Well, it's a good album. My pleasure to listen, and to review.

    You know what happens now though? The Dreaded Second Album! Which I suggest you call "Second Album Trouble", just to be safe.

    At least I now know what genre we fit into

    If you're like me, as soon as you find you're in a genre, you suddenly find you've changed direction and you're not any more.

    ReplyDelete