(Lonely Hiway, digital download)
In the hubbub surrounding the newly minted Pope Francis, it might be easy to forget that, in Vermont, we have our very own patron saint of music, Saint Albums. Admittedly, it’s been a while since his last decree. As of 2009, Saint Albums — born Ben Campbell — had released an astonishing 28 records in nine years. But the rub with being prolific is that the quality of those brain purges can be uneven. We can’t claim to have heard everything Campbell has released. But we can say with authority that the last four or five albums match quantity with skill, inventiveness, reinventiveness and overall musical excellence.
So why the disappearing act?
Perhaps after producing so much so quickly, Campbell’s well simply ran dry. Maybe he burned out. Maybe he just felt like doing other things. Maybe he — gasp! — got a real job. Who knows? Whatever the reason, local Saint Albums acolytes will be delighted to learn that Campbell is back. Last week, he released his first album, dubbed Falling Star, since 2009’s exceptional The Machine in the Man — his third release that year. Hallelujah.
Campbell has never been shy about experimenting in a variety of genres. His forays into pop, rock, electronic music, acoustic music and various crossroads in between have all roughly exhibited the same skill and attention to detail. They have also mostly existed on albums with similar stylistic tones. Less so on Falling Star. While anchored in reflective pop, the record presents a hodgepodge of styles, from quiet bedroom demos to more fully realized and sophisticated works.
From the dovetailing harmonies of foot-tapping, lo-fi acoustic opener “Am I Myself” to the Angry Young Man-era Elvis Costello punch of “Ear of a Fool” to the ethereal atmospherics of “Erase My Memory,” Campbell twists and turns with seemingly effortless grace and artful nuance. “Not a Morning Angel” begins with a jolting alarm of feedback, before groggily coming to caffeinated focus. “Push Me” is a narcotic swirl of heady art-rock. “Up For Sale” exists in a dreamy haze of Yo La Tengo-ish guitars and whispered melodies. “Rainfall” lazily meanders like a Pavement outtake.
Diverse and mysterious, Falling Star is something like a Saint Albums sampler, touching on the disparate elements that have informed Campbell’s varied previous efforts. That is not to say the record suffers a crisis of identity. Instead, the 14 tracks herein ultimately reveal the artist’s true musical face: that of a sublimely gifted, insatiably curious and wildly multifaceted artist.
Falling Star by Saint Albums is available at lonelyhiway.com.