Camille – Music Hole (2008)

11.23.2009

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Somewhere in the last few days of February early this year my girlfriend and I were sitting on a bed in a cheap hotel in Paris, combing through the 20 or so channels available on the television that, against all odds and expectations, we actually had in the room. Halfway between Parisien CSI-ripoff #346 and an unconvincingly dubbed export of Law and Order: SVU I stumbled upon something magical. I saw a woman dressed in orange, on a stage surrounded by a bunch of overweight, bikini-clad women and men, all furiously dancing, stomping and clapping while she sang until her voice went raw about dollar bills or something like that. It wasn’t until I got back home to my computer and internet connection that I found out what the fuck I had just seen:

The woman’s name is Camille Dalmais, and the song she was singing (“Money Note”) wasn’t about legal tender, it was about belting out a crazy high note and one-upping Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. I also didn’t know when I got her most recent album, here featured, that it was almost entirely devoid of instrumentation, marked instead by a Medulla-esque tapestry of beatboxing, snaps, claps, water slaps, vocal multiphonics and the occasional piano. The result is intoxicating- the kind of music you just laugh to yourself when you hear because it’s so cool.

Camille’s unique offshoot of the French folk genre chanson incorporates sounds and techniques from everything from throat singing to Steve Reich, and it’s because of this absurd range of influence that the virtual instrumentlessness never really gets to you. The music also never takes itself too seriously, either- except when it needs to. Dalmais lays the eerie on thick with “Winter’s Child” and takes a turn for the wordless and introspective on the aptly titled “The Monk”, both providing a fantastic contrast to opener “Gospel With No Lord” or “Cats and Dogs”, one of which features our songstress bursting into laughter as soon as the music tries to take a turn for the stereotypically calm and more serious bridge, the other song closing out with roughly a minute and a half of soulful wailing about the philosophical troubles of domesticating animals drowned out by Camille’s impressive barking and meowing.

In a commerical venture, Dalmais has tipped the linguistic scales in favor of English with this most recent release. This makes for something of a trade-off: her lyrics are more easily understood to those in les États-Unis (and they’re better than you might expect from an ESL’er such as she), but the rhythmic flow of her native French is relegated to more of a supporting role. In a way though, this makes it a more of a confounding surprise to non-Francophone listeners as we are- disguising ominous lyrics in a flurry of heavily accented rapid-fire syllables (“Home is Where it Hurts”), or filling out the texture with some slightly more foreign sounds.

For fans of: Regina Spektor, Bjork

Standout tracks: “Home is Where it Hurts”, “Money Note”, “Sanges Sweet”

Buy

– Julian

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