10 March 2015

Champs - Vamala

Welcome once more to another round of record cover roulette here at ATTIWLTMOWOS! For some of the next few reviews I am going to follow this path and reviewing albums for bands and artists (who I have not heard before) based on the cover alone (in between all the other stuff I am doing, I promise I will get back on track).  Our first offering is a band from the Isle of Wight called Champs which consists of Michael & David Champion.  There is not much more information I can gather about them to be honest.  This is their second album and they are signed to the label Play It Again Sam.  They are also about to start a European tour and have a few dates around the UK as well at the time of writing.  So, with that little information and nothing much else it is time to listen to the album.

The first song is called "Desire" and from the outset you can hear lots of alternative 80 pop acts have influenced this band.  This ode to a relationship which is slowly fading to nothing has a feeling of remorse and the synth orientated drive that brings to mind the 80's revival of other acts such as MGMT and Empire of the Sun.  It is a sombre but brilliant opening to this album, perking my interest from the beginning.  Next is "Sophia" which slows everything down to slow rock plod and it is an instant clash with "Desire".  It might be a heartfelt songs about a special lady and the problems of being in love; but musically it is a bit dull, the excitement of their first number is replaced by a grey sky and tears.  "Running" is the third track on offer here, it is another slow guitar plucking number which bring back the feeling of 80’s synth mixed in with an indie/alternative attitude that made that era so interesting.  I think if “Sophia” & “Running had have swapped places on the album it would have made a much more smooth experience to be honest, “Running” is a grower for me and it gets better with subsequent listens.  “Forever Be Upstanding at Your Door” is an acoustic number that changes the mood once more for the album.  It is strange that they are mixing up their style with acoustic songs and synth anthems; it does change your perceptions of the band, but this song is very easy on the ears and drifts along like clouds on a summer’s day.

“Send Me Down” is another song like “Sophia”, at first it jarred me (which seems to be a running theme for me on this album) as it change the mood once again and I felt I was dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde pop acoustic act.  But with repeated listens, you do start to warm to the song.  It would be hard not to when it has this tale of searching for love, it just sound like a broken country anthem with a slow piano helping drive the number slowly along its way; another changing number that takes it time to reveal its beauty.  “3,000 Miles” is a number that instantly hit the spot for me, like the XX it just seem to be something I can instantly connect with.  Another love song, mixing up the various styles of the Champs and if it was not for “Desire” it would have been the song of the album.  Then we have the title track “Vamala” which reminds me a bit of Foster the People, there is a dab of modern dark pop about this number which make it slightly unsettling for me.  It is once again a love song that seems to be the Champs calling card, but once again it is well crafted and has something about it that slowly unfolds on repeated playing.  Track nine is called “The Balforn Tower” with its tale of break up and jealousy to a solemn piano being the guide for the song.  Once more I am reminded of another band here (I do not think this is the intent of the band), but it feels as dark as an alternative take of The Living Dead by Suede which was done on piano for a now defunct magazine called Select.  It is a dark slice of pop and it sounds beautiful to these ears.

“Blood” is an anthem in waiting, the song sounds like it is destined to be sung in union at big gigs and will sound massive on their current European tour.  With large synth and a full band sound to the number, it is a lofty and very ambitious track which they have pulled off for this number.  It is great to see that even at this early stage in their career that they are taking a risk, this could easily had fell apart but the song is too strong for that; again if it was not for “Desire”, this would have also been a contender for song of the album.  “Down (Alone in the Avenue)” is contrast is the polar opposite to “Blood”, it is slowed down, synths played out as hand clap along to the slow dour drum beat and the world has changed once more.  It is asking a lot for this song to follow something like “Blood” as it just runs to a different beat, but it is not a bad song if the truth be told; it is just another example of the sharp turning attitude of the band for me.  The penultimate song called “Roll Me Out” is another acoustic guitar number that could have easily been taken from a folk/country album, but it has somehow found its way onto this hybrid album.  It is a pleasant song that does not outstay its welcome and once more shows that the band probably do not want to be pigeonholed in any way.  Ending the album is “The Devil’s Carnival” this is the darkest number of the album, sounding like the dark ending for an independent horror film it brings to the listen the sense of horror and despair that is going on for the band and the person of the song.  It is a strong song to end the album on, which once more changes the mood of the record for one last time.

This album is a big confusing to someone on the outside of the band’s fan base, it does not know what it wishes to be and it just keeps shifting just when you think you have a gauge on what they are about, the track listing could do with a re-jig in a few places as well and they seem to want to be everything to everyone.  But you know what, I really enjoyed the record when all is said and done.  Do not get me wrong, I think that they are as mad as a box of frogs and whichever of the styles they eventually decide to settle on (if they do ever settle that is) I reckon they will be hard to beat.  This is dysfunctional, heart breaking and probably too clever for its own good.  “Desire” is an early contender for song of the year for the blog, it is that good and the rest of the album is beautiful in variant degrees of strange tides – approach with care and have a go with the flow attitude, it will delight if you do that.

8 out of ten – Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top song - Desire

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Champs website here

You can also follow their activity on Facebook here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

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