Review: Ken Camden – Lethargy & Repercussion

Central to the appeal of Ken Camden’s debut album is the fact that, with the exception of the last track, it was recorded without overdubs.  This real-time aspect of Lethargy & Repercussion gives the record a sense of vibrancy and intimacy – you can visualize the recording process, how elements are set to loop and new sounds are carefully introduced, how Camden reacts to the changing relationship between textures at that particular moment. It’s an album that, although it’s only been recorded once, feels forever embedded in the present tense when you listen to it.

Opener “Birthday” rises into a swirling mass of pretty broken chords, dancing with an endearing innocence, whilst a tanpura – which is brilliantly used here – lurks rather ominously in the background. Elsewhere, “In Your Ears” consists merely of whirring drones that overlap, interweave, converse; sometimes running in the parallel of gorgeous harmony and sometimes dissonantly crashing off eachother, groaning on for a few seconds at a time before catching breath in brief pauses of silence. One great feature of Lethargy & Repercussion is that Camden hasn’t been tempted to saturate every track in sound and knows when to leave just two or three timbres to play out on their own. During its early stages, I was praying for “Raga” to stay as a simple duet, and it does – with tanpura anchoring the piece to allow a soaring guitar improvisation to unfold over the top.

“Jupiter” is the odd track out here. It was composed for two guitars and therefore does use overdubs, but so gorgeous is the thick stream of notes seeping endlessly into the landscape that you instantly forget to care. It’s a horribly haunting album closer, shifting gently like a brooding nightmare, keeping you on edge and unsettled right up until the fade-out. Compared to the other tracks it sounds absolutely huge, as though the walls of Camden’s recording space have collapsed to reveal the gloomy alien landscape that surrounds it.

Clearly, it would be fantastic to hear these pieces in the live context; I’d be fascinated to physically witness the construction process and the way in which some of the more unusual textures are realised. But until Camden plays some dates, I’m quite content with zoning out to this release and letting my imagination plug the gaps. What a brilliant debut record.