Though most of my taste in music leans towards (supposedly) off-kilter stuff like prog, post-rock, metal and math, I find that a lot of the time I actually tend to enjoy straight forward tunes more often than I do experimental weirdness. Innovation is great and on an intellectual level I love being able to pick music apart and analyse it for its influences, ideas, ambitions, genre, etc. – but at the end of the day I’m a sucker for a catchy tune, and the music that I’m more likely to return to is music that I can appreciate for its immediately likeable sounds and melodies. Even so, a great melody usually isn’t enough to keep me interested for very long without something more unique happening at the same time, and I think the best music is by artists who find a balance between writing great melodies and maintaining a progressive approach to the craft; artists who use the melody and the familiar sounds and structures to hook you in, and the ideas and innovations and weirdness to keep you interested. I think that Canadian-born Australian singer-songwriter Brian Campeau is one of those artists.
His upcoming album ‘Old Dog’s, New Tricks’ is probably the most easily likeable album I’ve heard all year. Each pleasingly mid-pace song throws hook after hook at you from every direction: the guitar lines, the often harmonised vocals, the bass (good god, the bass!), the atmospheric synths, and even occasionally just random noises such as a dog barks and bike bells – they all just jump out at you and pull you in and just never let you go. Every layer of sound you hear is just so incredibly beautiful and perfectly placed in the mix, that even Tracks like Whatever Happened to Xanadu, 1983, Slow Walking, How to Behave, & Done It Again, are some of the quickest songs I’ve learned to love in ages – actually since I discovered Melbourne band half/cut’s debut in 2016. I bring that up because, in some ways, I think the albums are somewhat similar, even though they’re fairly different in both sound and vibe. That was an album that thrived on crafting deceptively simple songs that were as beautiful in their complexity as they were in their apparently simplicity; this one works much the same. Both albums work as mood music that I can chuck on in the background as well as music that I can actively listen to, music that I can read to as well as drum along to. They’re albums that quickly started growing on me and haven’t yet stopped. They’re also on the same label now, and they both played Nicefest this year, albeit in different states… I don’t know, I see some weird similarities. If you like one band, you should check out the other.
Anyway, the Old Dogs, New Tricks boasts a fun roster of musicians, such as Chris Allision (Plini, Instrumetal adj.) on drums and Elana Stone (All Our Exes Live in Texas) sharing vocal duties, but none of these take over from Campeau, whose personality just shines throughout the album. The opening lyrics to the chorus of 1983 – “there’s no point being sad, we came to change our minds” – just about sums up the intended feel; ‘Old Dog, New Tricks’ is apparently his first attempt at writing a positive-sounding record. Having not heard his apparently depressing earlier works before this one, it’s hard to imagine him being anything but positive, even the more melancholy tracks like Two Repeating have an undercurrent of hopefulness to them. I’ve heard artists attempt to bring about a sense of their own happiness and wellbeing before through their music (Anathema and The Wonder Years; it seemed to work for the former) and, aside from resulting in some pretty great music, it’s a really interesting and inspiring way to attempt to find your own sense of contentedness. I know it’s not wise to get attached to artists, but there’s an intimacy and warmth to the music here that got under my skin in a way that only a great singer-songwriter can. With the release notes noting that the man is apparently being prone to bouts of depression, I really hope it all works out for him.
If I have one complaint about the album, it’s the that penultimate track Pie in the Sky is a bizarre detour on an already bizarre album, with metal-tinged guitars and aggressive drums muted out in the background and an overall abrasive and discordant feel to it. It’s a neat little track on its own terms, but it regrettably disrupts the flow of the album. Still, ‘Old Dogs, New Tricks’ is probably one of the best releases I’ve heard all year. Brian Campeau is one of those bizarre Australian oddities whose presence in the music scene (and the Art as Catharsis roster) seems to both defy and exemplify everything I think I understand about it. We’re chock full of indie singer-songwriters, but only a few of them could write an album as good as this.
Pre-Order Brian Campeau’s ‘Old Dog, New Tricks’ (to be released August 24th via Art as Catharsis) HERE.