The fifth album from Brian Christinzio, aka BC Camplight, completes his recent cycle of albums known as the Manchester Trilogy. How To Die In The North, Deportation Blues and now Shortly After Takeoff prove a few things about Christinzio. His timing is phenomenal (or rather, fate’s timing is), secondly he’s a clearly resilient individual, despite the impetus for many of his songs, and thirdly, he knows how to write a killer tune.
How To Die In The North (2015) should have seen Christinzio propelled into the spotlight, but sadly, he found himself deported and banned from the UK, unable to capitalise on the album’s release. Just days before Deportation Blues (2018) was released, his father passed away. Although it was the album that finally saw him playing to larger audiences, it was obviously a difficult time for him.
Shortly After Takeoff represents an opportunity to deal with the emotions and mental trauma of the last couple of years. That it comes on the back of a diagnosis of a neurological condition that means Christinzio sees TV static is perhaps not surprising, and its release coming in the middle of a global pandemic seems to be entirely in keeping with the trilogy’s impeccable sense of timing. Shortly before takeoff, or shortly after, something always seems to go awry for BC Camplight.
One of the ways that Christinzio deals with the pitfalls of life is through humour – not in a comedy song manner (thankfully), but his lyrics are, on occasion, bleakly comic. Ghosthunting addresses the death of his father, and begins with a standup comedy routine. “For the whole first half of this record I thought I had a really bad disease, turns out I’m just mentally ill,” Christinzio deadpans, before stating “I’m hallucinating that my dead father is in my bedroom”. The song itself begins in suitably delicate and mournful tone, but there’s still Christinzio’s keen ear for a hook present in his vocal delivery. A killer line about a discussion with his mother concerning his hallucinations, keeps things relatively upbeat, despite the subject. This is followed by a sharp right turn into a skronking cacophony. Cavernous drums, honking sax and reverb soaked vocals suddenly take the song into far darker territory, it’s somewhere that other songwriters would have based the entire song, but the contrast is key to Ghosthunting’s success.
Those familiar with BC Camplight will know that these about turns in style and content are not unusual and Christinzio claims that these shifts reflect his short attention span. The result is that his songs can be hard to get a handle on initially, and they can take time to make sense of. Once some kind of familiarity has been established, these songs make perfect sense.
What makes Shortly After Take Off work is the attention to detail, both musically and lyrically. Back To Work jams Robot Rock up against something that Simon & Garfunkel would be proud. Here Christinzio discusses watching Die Hard 2 for the 38th time, something anyone familiar with the depression and/or fans of Bruce Willis, or both, may well be familiar with. Cemetery Lifestyle could be a Prince single or a deep cut from Flaming Lips, and it is here that he wakes up in a Nando’s carpark dressed in a banana suit. “This is wouldn’t bother me so much” he states “if I owned a banana suit” – a line that treads the line between comedy and the worry of a sketchy memory quite nicely. Arms Around Your Sadness’ beautiful piano intro (which recalls Colin Blunstone) is undercut by electronic bass swells as Christinzio talks about not remembering ordering a vegetable peeler and dealing with the chemist for a new prescription, whilst Born To Cruise’s Beach Boys-esque discusses the problems of driving from Crewe whilst leaving your indicators on. Finishing up the album is Angelo, a brief but beautiful nod to his dad and a fitting way to draw the Manchester Trilogy and this period of BC Camplight’s existence to a close.
The last few years have been tumultuous for Brian Christinzio to say the least, but Shortly After Takeoff is a perfect distillation of pain, humour, depression, and plain old human existence. That it’s all wrapped up in a series of songs that take their inspiration from just about anywhere makes it all the more exciting. Fingers crossed that this time, all Christinzio needs to do after take off is to pop his earbuds in and get to work on the next project. Or watch Die Hard 2 on the inflight movies.