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Telephone Free Landslide Victory

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Album Review

They say "never say never," but it's still extremely unlikely something so goofily low-key, inventive, and fun will ever achieve cult status so quickly again, especially in terms of musical range on display. Not simply a rock group but not anything else, Camper Van Beethoven pulled off a series of entertaining fusions throughout its debut record, as the opening song "Border Ska" indicates by name alone. Eastern European folk, tropical grooves, post-punk atmospherics, country laid-back good times, psych/garage band aesthetics, lyrics about Mao, Greece, and more — a lot of stuff went into the Santa Cruz band's brew, and most of it came up trumps on Telephone. Lowery's lead vocals aren't much like what his more famous work in Cracker would indicate, being more speak-singing through shaggy dog stories (even one about Lassie) of all stripes. Hearing his tale of woe on "Wasted" — "I was a punker, and I had a Mohawk/I was so gnarly and I drove my dad's car" — delivered in a "yeah dude" tone of voice is pretty darn funny. Segel's keyboards and violins color the arrangements with a fun touch, while rhythm team Krummenacher and then recently departed drummer Anthony Guess try out nearly everything at least once. The production is eminently suited for the proceedings, sounding a bit like the thick, fuzzy flow of many Shimmy-Disc releases but with just enough of a crisp edge. When it comes to humor, it's everywhere — for instance, the plaintively sung chorus of "Where the Hell Is Bill?," not to mention the various speculative answers ("Maybe he went to get a Vespa scooter"). Or, of course, the song that kick-started the band's reputation, "Take the Skinheads Bowling," two and a half minutes of chiming, goofy nonsense with references to Jah and incomplete rhymes.


Formed: 1983 in Redlands, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Back in the day, before alternative rock was invented and indie rock was still shy of roots music and other folk elements, Camper Van Beethoven's merging of punk, folk, ska, and world music was truly a revelation. Singer/songwriter David Lowery's smart-aleck lyrics, delivered in laid-back California style, combined with Jonathan Segel's violin as lead instrument, were the band's instant trademarks. Decades...
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