BC Camplight: Shortly After Takeoff (Bella Union)

Strong medicine indeed - fans of Eels, Sparklehorse and other masters of fucked-up 4am beauty, this one's for you

Released Apr 24th, 2020 via Bella Union / By Ben Wood
BC Camplight: Shortly After Takeoff (Bella Union) Transplanted US singer-songwriter Brian Christinzio, aka BC Camplight, has become the toast of Marc Riley's BBC Radio 6 Music show since leaving Philadelphia for Manchester. However, as his new album makes clear, that's not to say everything is peachy.

As Brian freely admits, mental health and addiction issues have given him quite a battering over the last few years. Just when he felt he had turned the corner came deportation threats, health problems and the death of his father. But he's still in there swinging, armed with a unique musical vision and a pitch-black sense of humour.

On Shortly After Takeoff, a gift for anthemic loveliness battles with a desire to sabotage all this beauty - kinda like a smart-arse, avant-garde, indie Brian Wilson.

Underneath its deliberately off-kilter production, this is an album of beautiful, confessional balladry (Arm Around Your Sadness) and shiny, sleek 80s pop (Cemetery Lifestyle, potentially uplifting if you didn't notice it's lyrics).

However, ol' Brian doesn't like to make things easy for the listener. The album tries to put us inside his boiling brain by portraying his crises, moodswings and fugue states via suitably schizophrenic music.

Vocals are sometimes conversational, sometimes soaring. Musically, it's often hard to pin down. I Only Drink When I'm Drunk drops us into a lost afternoon via Spaghetti Western twangy guitar, sludgy beats and ace, soaring vocodered Gruff Rhys-ness.

Ghosthunting opens with a comedy routine about thinking he was hallucinating his dead dad. Its hypnotic balladry is undermined by gnarly static and staccato electronic strings.

Such tactics recur frequently, the songs seemingly reluctant to pitch too hard for our sympathy.

However, it must be stressed that it's often very funny, in a 'laughing in the dark' way. Back to Work discusses watching Die Hard 2 'for the 38th time'. I Want to Be in the Mafia features a gorgeous Belle and Sebastian verse, real-life tales of psychiatric institutions and the most sincere-sounding lyrics of the album. Hanging out with the Goodfellas would be a great way to channel all that psychosis, huh?!?

Shortly After Takeoff takes BC's love of cheesy 80s rock sounds to new levels; Arm Around Your Sadness is a beautifully numb tale of spacing out to daytime TV; and Born to Cruise is like the Beach Boys on Halloween, an anti-Springsteen car anthem which offers no escape, merely another arena to fuck up in.

By turns bewitching and frustrating, this is an utterly singular vision. It's an appropriately fucked-up sounding and extremely listenable tour of one man's mental hell. Dunno about the Devil, but maybe Hell's got the best tunes... 8/10