Monday, 14 April 2008

CAMILLE: Gospel With No Lord

The kneejerk comparison - if we exclude Bobby McFerrin, as we must - has thus far been with Bjork's Medulla, but Camille's largely voice and body percussion-driven Music Hole is far less self-conscious than the latter; less anxious to impress, more anxious to tell a story and observe how and why people use music, how it lives both within and without them - the spontaneity of inspiration, the move from thigh slap to throat shout, how it arises from the rhythms of life and how we manage to plant new roots as a result. Thirty years after Toop, Burwell and Figueroa first proposed how this paradigm might function in music, Music Hole works with and because of voices and bodies, their influxes, crisscrosses and purposive or accidental interactions; only the piano is used as a sort of chordal continuo; even Jamie Cullum, in the least likely of cameos, has to make do with hammering the piano lid rather than playing it as such.

From these seemingly slender resources arises a remarkable resourcefulness with a huge emotional and stylistic palette; no sooner have we passed the hilarious menage of parlour room courtesies and dungeon howls (with namechecks for Liptons and Twinings as we go along) that is "Katie's Tea," which may or may not be a friendly send-up of Kate Bush, than we encounter the sweetly gruelling passages of adagio mourning which constitute the startling "Winter's Child" and "Waves"; by the time of the redeeming gospel of "Sanges Sweet" one feels that the rope of life has been passed to one's fingers to clutch.

"Money Note" deserves special mention too for its brilliant demolition of the melismatics/vocal calisthenics-as-emotional-cash-registers sales line which has become all too familiar from certain recividist practitioners in recent years; nailing the original 18th century purpose of rootless demonstrations of vocal technique as a sweetener, a circus act to pull in more punters, Camille fearlessly goes higher and higher in the hope of earning more money; by the time the song staggers to its end, she has left Mariah far behind and ventured well into dog whistle territory.

But the variance of moods and angles, sometimes within the spans of individual songs, is remarkable too; "The Monk" begins as a dimly intoned incantation before building up to punctulating gasps of orgasm. There is tenderness to balance any insanity; yes, there is the massed farmyard riot of "Cats And Dogs" but also the serene strokes of "Kfir" with its resonating chant of "but the sun" remaining firmly implanted in the listener's soul. And the splish splash sensualities of "Canard Sauvages" might be the aqueous missing link between Bobby Darin and Neneh Cherry.

However, "Gospel With No Lord," the album's introductory track, is also the most upbeat and outstanding; once again, "soul" to shame all rote learners as the body beats can barely keep up with Camille's air vent rushes of excitement and delirium; no she didn't get it from the Lord, from her father or her mother - enter a Mike Love burp loop of "father in law" - or from her hamster in law for that matter, though she's clearly deriving and consuming the spring from somewhere. The song stops dead two thirds of the way through just so that Camille can sing sweetly and slowly over some gorgeous ripples of piano about her branch of the family tree and her roots of music prior to immediately breaking back into the accumulating choirs of chants, finally squealing: "It comes from within me!" before aiming for another high Mariah C, deliberately failing to get it, and giggling into the next room for some more coffee.