Bandcamp Picks

Bandcamp Picks of the Week 2/9/2024


It’s our Bandcamp Picks of the Week, featuring Viva Belgrado’s thrillingly spaced out post-hardcore record CANCIONERO DE LOS CIELOS and a pair of EPs from emo staples Camping in Alaska! 

Viva Belgrado album cover


Genres: Alternative Rock, Post-Hardcore, Space Rock

Favorite Tracks: “El Cristo de los Faroles,” “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” “Perfect Blue”

The Viva Belgrado of CANCIONERO DE LOS CIELOS is a fundamentally different band than the one who burst into the Spanish screamo scene with FLORES, CARNE. Their lineup hasn’t shifted much—the core of the band has always been the rhythm section of bassist Ángel Madueño and drummer Álvaro Mérida with vocalist/guitarist Cándido Gálvez—but they sound nearly unrecognizable.

The first seconds of the record establish that: “Vernissage” rumbles awake with distant keys and Gálvez murmuring as though talking to himself; it’s well over five minutes into the album before Gálvez’s voice rises above a conversational volume. They’d begun down this path in earnest on 2020’s BELLAVISTA, and CANCIONERO DE LOS CIELOS constitutes a refinement more than a reinvention. Much of BELLAVISTA felt like a hardcore band’s first attempt to push past the genre, finding ways to add layers to their sound, and here they deepen those gulfs. Songs like “El Cristo de los Faroles” are the most successful, the songs where they find ways to carve space out of their songs in order to hit even harder when they get filled back in with walls of noise. “El Cristo” careens between chaotic, off-kilter verses and a delicate, nearly a capella hook, a risk that would end up unbearably corny in a lesser band’s hands.

Elsewhere they entirely leave behind their roots, to mixed results. “Perfect Blue” is all post-rock grandeur and moonshot tremolos with Gálvez’s voice grounding the whole affair until the bridge, when waves of alien synths add a texture and a tenderness rarely felt in the genre. “Elena Observanda la Osa Mayor” is a honeyed dirge built on sparse keys and a loping melody; in its final minute, the song is swallowed up by a cascade of synth arpeggios and beats, but only briefly, and it isn’t enough to save the track from feeling like a pale retread of BELLAVISTA highlight “Más Triste Que Shinji Ikari.” Most of CANCIONERO DE LOS CIELOS, though, manages to feel like a bold step forward for Viva Belgrado. Grab it on Bandcamp. [Zac Djamoos]

Hollow Eyes EP cover Lost and Found EP cover

Camping in Alaska – LOST & FOUND / HOLLOW EYES

Genre: Post-Hardcore, Emo

Favorite Tracks: “Captain Fantastic,” “Reaching Heaven by Violence”

Everyone is an archiver now, working for free to preserve memories we later might decide that we’re better off forgetting. From forum discussions to statuses to Instagram stories to whatever X and Meta are now, most of us have fashioned semi-permanent catalogs of ourselves over a decade (or two) across the internet. I suppose this is how “cringe” came to be. The recognition of a former self gazing back at you in the form of a years-old post is particularly disconcerting if that younger self had bad style, taste, or opinions—and it’s likely that at some point, they had a combination of all three. When YouTube first began pushing Camping in Alaska’s 2013 release, PLEASE BE NICE, a few years ago, I rebuffed the algorithm’s advances. With a title like that, I assumed the album was likely rife with too many of the protestable elements of emo (overwrought whiny lyrics, crybaby misogyny). But being that I’d often resonated with uploads by the popular YouTube account jommeez, who posts and supports a variety of emo and post-rock/hardcore/punk/etc bands, I eventually relented and found I had misjudged the Alabama natives. 

As I told my counselor at the time, listening to their debut, PLEASE BE NICE, in the throes of the spread of COVID-19, I felt a specific sort of enthusiasm that I most often associated with my late teen years. It was the feeling of driving 20 miles above the speed limit down an open highway in Ohio, chugging a 32-oz soda I bought at a gas station. It was the sensation of sweat pooling at my nape and in the pits of my arms after standing shoulder-to-shoulder, crammed in a concert hall to see a band I’d only recently learned about. It was the aches of muscles, pained from throwing myself against corn-fed boys twice my size in the mosh pit in the venue near the college campus I swore to never attend. It was the excitement blending with hopeful anxiety as I talked about a beloved song with a crush or new friend. There are juvenile lyrics, sure, as it was written when the members were in high school, but none of them can be overshadowed by the frenzied energy of the album, propelled by its math rock guitar riffs and reminiscences of Cap’n Jazz. The album became an unexpected online cult favorite, marking Camping in Alaska as young vanguards of Midwest emo (though the band members assert Southern emo would  be a better distinction). It’s unsurprising that the unforeseen lasting popularity of an album one created as a teenager could be irritating, especially when emo and its subgenres already denote a brazen earnestness and sincerity. And to be fair, Camping in Alaska’s subsequent albums, BATHE and WELCOME HOME SON, are overall better works. They’re both more constrained in their focus, though not restrained in their vibrancy.

2022 brought a return of Camping in Alaska—with founding and original members, singer, songwriter, guitarist Austin Davis, guitarist Eli Long, drummer Jacob Stewart, guitarist Jacob Hill, and the more recent addition of Dani Fandre on Bass—with their acoustic EP LOST & FOUND, which was followed up this year with another EP, HOLLOW EYES. Both see the band embracing their earlier music while also continuing the evolution introduced on WELCOME HOME SON that Davis recently described as “post-emo” in an interview with Bummer Brews.

One might quickly notice LOST & FOUND opener, “Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi 5,” a title nod to PLEASE BE NICE’s “dragon ball z budokai tenkaichi 4” (itself a video game reference over my head). “Tenkaichi 5” builds on the youthful angst of its predecessor, bridging to a somber tale of doomed love within the cycle of addiction, a common theme found in Camping in Alaska’s later songs. The short “Hertzfeldt” closes the EP with a lo-fi lullaby send off, but it’s the second track, “Mr. Fantastic,” that I return to most with Davis’, soft pleading vocals, “We can be like Kim and Jimmy/But there’s so much dark shit in me.” A live version uploaded by the band on YouTube sparks excitement about its alternate non acoustic version. 

HOLLOW EYES opens with a re-recording and revamping of an early demo, “Burger King,” now titled “Burger Monarch.” Fandre’s bass line brings the song into a rhythmic groove, slowing it down from its frenetic earlier version. It sets the tone of the following tracks, “Blinking Lights” and “Reaching Heaven By Violence,” which layer guitars and reverb in the vein of LONESOME CROWDED WEST-era Modest Mouse. The latter is a standout in Camping’s entire catalog. The six-and-a-half minute track abandons the twinkly guitars utilized on PLEASE BE NICE in favor of a heavier, sludgier sound over Stewart’s animated drumming, building to an exaltation.

Last October, I saw Camping in Alaska on tour for the anniversary of PLEASE BE NICE. I came straight from work, at an office that allows me to wear clothes that can easily melt into the crowd of an emo show. At the all-ages venue at Elsewhere in Brooklyn, I marveled at seeing a band many of us had only existed on the crevices of YouTube. Onstage, the band didn’t seem reluctant to play any of their early material, only enthralled that a roomful of people knew the lyrics. During fan favorite “why can’t i be snowing,” I found myself immersed in a mosh pit for the first time in years. “I hope that I die/So some people might/Listen to the songs I write or wrote/I hope that I die,” we all screamed together and I felt thankfulness for the opportunity to live, for every lyric ever learned, and for everyone I ever loved no matter how briefly. May these moments be immortal. Dig in on Bandcamp. [Madison Jamar]

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