Camper Van Beethoven’s California Dirging

camino real

On El Camino Real,Camper Van Beethoven drops the southerly second half of a two-part concept album about California. Last year’s La Costa Perdida,a jolly campfire meditation on life north of Fresno, sported the kind of ragged wheezy brio you’d expect from one of Eighties college rock’s most durable acts. CVB’s best early songs – “When I Win the Lottery,” “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” the gorgeously shambolic cover of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” – point the way west coast hardcore punk might’ve gone had the genre not died of self-loathing. On this ninth album, delicate virtues like offhand wit, countrified charm and sneaky earnestness congeal into something less pleasant.

The record kicks off with “The Ultimate Solution,” an energetically low-gear raveup namechecking taquerias and game shows while running through an anti-Los Angeles indictment at least as old as Day of the Locust. “It Was Like That When We Got Here” is messed-up boy meets messed-up girl in the cheery blazing hell of sunbaked Pasadena. Or something. “Classy Dames and Able Gents,” “Camp Pendleton” and “Dockweiler Beach” are familiar CVB daydreams with the usual mildly sinister overtones. On “I Live in L.A.” and “Sugartown,” singer-songwriter David Lowery moans dismally over such facts of banal life as facial tattoos and cowboy boots like some loutish Woody Allen fan down at the end of the bar. Nobody, it seems, lives it up in this wing of the Hotel California.

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Camper Van B’s vaunted melodic inventiveness is present enough to make El Camino Real prime soundtrack fodder for the next NBC sitcom pilot about junkies in Highland Park. The album’s subject matter is the weary-ass lingua franca of every broke-as-fuck L.A. indie rock act ever to sweat the basin’s rising rents and unhinged alienation. You can hear identical sentiments howled on any night at either end of Sunset Boulevard by bands with less skill and bigger huevos. In this brute context, the characteristically wry songwriting sounds like it comes from yet another tourist with a label deal. Out June 3 on 429 Records.

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