CD reviews: Camper Van Beethoven and Christopher Owens

  • Updated: January 22, 2013 - 9:21 AM
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Camper Van Beethoven

Photo: Camper Van Beethoven, Star Tribune

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ROCK

“La Costa Perdida,” Camper Van Beethoven (429)

In the 1980s, Camper Van Beethoven helped guide music out of the vestiges of New Wave and heavy metal with a genre mishmash that set up the advent of alt-rock. And, in 1990, the group promptly broke up, just as alt-rock exploded in popularity — though members stayed active, most notably vocalist/guitarist David Lowery with the band Cracker.

Although the alt-rock heyday had passed by the time Camper Van Beethoven resurrected in 1999, the act has soldiered on.“La Costa Perdida,” its first release in eight years, finds the group gleefully mixing it up in a hodgepodge of sound that doesn’t break ground (or even make sense). It pays tribute to its Northern California roots with a mix of psychedelia, jam music and hard rock plus all manner of American (and even Mexican) subgenres. The band members compensate for the lack of continuity with the kind of inviting charm that comes from confident, veteran musicians doing their thing. Yet the self-indulgence of such noodling around creates numerous dull stretches.

Opening cut “Come Down the Coast” is a promising start, a warm slice of rootsy adult rock driven by sweet guitar and Lowery’s invitation to “come down and see me sometime.” The album is also given a late lift from the earthy title track and the alluring finale “A Love for All Time” (“King Neptune is blue deep in the sea/ I’m sure he misses you when you’re out wandering”). “La Costa Perdida” is fitfully engaging, but it ultimately proves pointless.

CHUCK CAMPBELL, Scripps Howard News Service

 

Christopher Owens, “Lysandre” (Fat Possum)

“New York City,” the third song on Owens’ debut solo album, is kind of an opposite-universe version of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” It’s a sax-soaked tale of turning tricks in the big city, but zips along a major-key melody with a mix of hope and devastation. That blend has been the hallmark of Owens’ writing since his time fronting the indie-rock band Girls. “Lysandre” isn’t much of a departure But it does broaden the range and refine the writing that made him a troubadour of millennial drifters (and those who go to bed with them).

The album starts with a Ren-Faire flute melody that suggests a joust with preciousness is to come. But then the record, which was allegedly written in one fevered day, skips off into Bill Withers acoustic ambience, Belle & Sebastian-style twee-pop and occasional nods to acid-casualty classic rock. There’s some overly emo mulling on “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener,” where Owens wonders “What if I’m just a bad songwriter?” He’s not, but Conor Oberst does that sort of meta-self-criticism better. Overall though, “Lysandre” is a fresh start for a writer with a fine ear for the way happiness and heartbreak intertwine.

AUGUST BROWN, Los Angeles Times

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