Brian Christinzio is one of life’s little oddities. Too leftfield to be pop, too tuneful to be experimental, the Philadelphia-based singer songwriter, now on his second record, is truly a one-off, mixing beautifully constructed pop songs with, well, everything but the kitchen sink until you give up trying to guess what’s coming after the next chord change.
After his well-received debut album, 2005’s Hide, Run Away, Camplight (no explanation is given for the moniker, but perhaps none is needed) decamped to the studio to create something that would, in his words “change the way you think, not the way you dress.”
And he’s done it as well – Blink of a Nihilist is the type of record that defies classification, packing enough humour, love and experimentalism into 45 minutes to fill a whole back-catalogue of Zutons albums.
Camplight, whose first record flirted ominously with themes of murder and incest hidden behind decidedly upbeat, and offbeat, pop numbers has obviously cheered up considerably – Blink of a Nihilist is almost a continuous love song, although whether for a person or simply just the joy of being alive is never quite clear.
There’s a touch of anti-folk about all this – the album’s most soaring moments recall Sufjan Stevens, and his predilection for building simple piano refrains around off-kilter synths is very reminiscent of recent favourites Dr Dog. It’s horrible to use the word ‘quirky’ here to describe Camplight, but little else will do. Convention, fashion and trend goes out the window in what may be one of the finest undiscovered gems of the year.
So it’s a little disingenuous to start suggesting influences to throw into this decidedly individual mix. Certainly, The 22 Skidoo has the wide-eyed beauty and disarmingly simple construction of some of the best of cult singer Daniel Johnston’s work and Smiley Smile era Beach Boys.
Like Johnson and Brian Wilson, Christinzio has suffered with mental illness, but it would be unfortunate if critics seized upon this as an explanation for his offbeat approach. Yes, the record has an almost schizophrenic edge – Soy Tonto goes through enough permutations to be classed as a rock opera – but there is beautiful method behind the apparent madness.
Even the record’s more experimental moments – like the baritone warble of I’ve Got a Bad Cold (which does exactly what it says on the tin) – still pack a punch, Camplight’s enviable ability to say something profound with the most unassuming lyrics is astonishing – “I’ve been living in your basement/ Your Mom is sweet/ She smells your laundry” on Forget About Your Bones takes on a whole night meaning in context.
Soy Tonto is amongst the best on the record, an absolutely perfect romp through salsa, honky-tonk and even 60’s wall of sound effects, while closing track Scare Me Sweetly is as good as any song on Surf’s Up. It’s honestly that good – a thrilling, stompy pop number that should grace any festival site across the country.
While Snow Patrol fans may find this record perhaps a bridge too far in experimentalism, anybody who likes their music a little interesting will do well to pick up a copy of Blink. Delicate, heartbreaking and decidedly odd, you might not understand it, but you’ll fall in love with it all the same.