Review: Chris Campbell – Things You Already Know

Chris Campbell - Things You Already KnowHow does something become part of your life? How do you bring that integrated, non-dual state of mind into the messy reality we live in? How do you express that through the very specific lens of self? 

In a sense, these questions posed by Campbell on the CD inlay only become problematic upon their articulation; there is a process by which the external binds with the internal, and it’s when we try to express this concept (inadequately, perhaps) that we perceive our gaping holes in understanding of how the pristine sphere of the self can come to acquire the new. Up until now, Things You Already Know has existed as synaptic potential inside Campbell’s head; immaculately formed in the imagination, placing an expectation upon the corporeal world to possess the necessary materials to extract it unscathed. Just as our vocabulary fumbles over concepts potentially too large and complex to accommodate, there was always the possibility that the music in Campbell’s mind was rendered in a colour palette exclusive to his imagination.

Thankfully not. There’s something incredibly charming about the process at work here. Many musicians are happy to indulge the tousle between creative intent and the imperfect realisation of its real-world execution, but Things You Already Know feels like an exercise in pushing for a replica of the music within – kneading out collaborative misunderstanding until Campbell’s internal vision vibrates through everyone present. It’s a record of grand and intricate movements: strings that sweep like a cape across a torso, percussion of both sturdy, staccato resonance and the botched collapse of smacked objects, overtones that bubble to the surface like glints of light crossing an iris as though choreographed to do so, guitars twanging and ascending as though I’m falling up an endless staircase. The speed with which transformations take place is undoubtedly a figment of cognition rather than real-world collaboration; rickety scaffolding structures of asynchronous drums and off-angle strings are dismantled and reshaped on the back of split-second recalibrations in thought, executed before Campbell can dissect the rationale for doing so.

It’s a record of both body and intangibility. I hear fingernails on strings and voices that take the diaphragm with them, and wooden chairs creaking upon recline; human matter rendered in the muscle and warmth of performance execution. And yet, the music is a commotion of such energy that I am often jostled away from the instruments I reach to touch – I spin in the rhythms of “Lord Byron”, which sounds like a train trundling, zig-zagging, stalling on infeasible gradients, grinding against gigantic rocks of digital signal, falling off the tracks entirely to be propelled into the sky on woodblocks and orchestral ramps. Often I’m left standing in the elephantine footprint of where the orchestra once was, caught between vibraphones and keyboards that pant as though overwhelmed by the constant movement, awaiting the imminent rush of activity to resume. In fact, the only moments at which I can clasp Things You Already Know in my hands are during the first and last tracks (“Form – Emptiness”, “Emptiness – Form”), during which gentle piano chords carve gateways in and out of the materialisation process, moving from wisps of thought to material sculpture and back again. A beautiful record, if beautiful is indeed the right word.