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Three albums in and London based duo Psapp seem to be on the breakthrough of 'making it big'. Their song "Cosy in the Rocket" is the theme tune to Gray's Anatomy, they've had songs featured on the soundtrack to The OC (a must for any up and coming indie band), and I even heard their single playing as I was browsing in Topshop in Oxford Circus last week! But despite all of this, I suspect most people in the UK are still unfamiliar with Psapp. Psapp are responsible for the creation of a genre with the slightly tongue-in-cheek title of "toytronica", so called because of the duo's use of toy instruments to create their unique sound. The Camel's Back is their third full length album, released in late 2008, and takes a more jazz influenced approach and is undoubtedly their most accessible album yet.
The sound which dominates the album is built up in layers, using traditional instruments like keyboard, strings, guitar as a base, and then layering other sounds on top of this - toy pianos, digital glitches, maracas, bicycle bells, crackling paper, the squeaking of rubber ducks - the duo are inspired by "anything that's silly and makes stupid noises". Their collection of instruments apparently is now at the stage where it fills two rooms and includes xylophones, water pipes, several egg slicers and even a mechanical chicken named Brunhilde. The Camel's Back takes a slightly more traditional approach to instrumentation that their previous outings, using a brass section, and strings. Of course, there are still the odd experimental sounds thrown in - the frothing a popping of bubbles can be heard on the opening track as well as the numerous shaking and scraping sounds which litter the album's background. The danger for unusual and experimental music like this is that it becomes gimmicky and often verges on pretention, but Psapp keep the tongue in cheek feel throughout that gives the whole thing a sense of playfulness and fun and the songwriting is always the strongest feature, never overpowered by the need to throw in 'funny noises' for the sake of it.
My first encounter with this album was when I went to see Psapp play live earlier this year at Cargo in London. Although the album had been released, I'd not yet heard any of it and was dubious about how much I would enjoy the new stuff they played. When it comes to live music, I find I often need to be familiar with the music first to really enjoy it, and I've found Psapp to be a group whose music really grows on you. However, I enjoyed it so much that I downloaded the album from iTunes the very next morning - annoyingly, so did my boyfriend after I had left for work which meant we paid for it twice, but it gives an indication of how instantly accessible The Camel's Back is.
The Camel's Back sees Psapp head away from the indie/electronic route and more down the jazz / pop influenced road and I would say it has a more poppy feel than their previous work, with upbeat songs that are easy to sing along to. Whereas their previous album, The Only Thing I Ever Wanted, dripped melancholy, the overriding feel of The Camel's Back is fun and happy. The opening track, "I want that", is a whirl of frenetic beats and hooks, blasting jazz trumpets, the perfect soundtrack to a happy, sunny summer. "Part Like Waves" employs a hypnotic syncopated string arrangement that brings to mind Sufjan Stevens and even the instrumental only track, Marshrat, has enough to captivate me (perhaps unsurprisingly as a singer I tend to hit the skip button on instrumentals!)
The intimate feel of the duo's previous albums is captured in the title track, "The Camel's Back", a more reflective and melancholy lo-fi sound with warm synths and Galia Durant's vocals taking centre stage.
"The Monster Song" is the first single from the album and is one of its highlights and the closest the duo have come to a mainstream pop track - a playful and upbeat sound masking the darker lyrical undertones. The album's closing track, "Parker", is the other highlight of the album - brash brass blast alongside a kazoo battle and a spontaneous jive feel that captures the frenetic whirl of a smoke filled jazz club.
Galia Durant's vocals are fabulous - a voice dripping honey but somehow retaining a cool and detached feel that works well with the darker lyrical content.
The album as a whole is unique, sweet, charming, and immediately accessible and will no doubt be the soundtrack to my summer - the impeccably produced layered electronic sound is reminiscent of The Postal Service, Sufjan Stevens, or even Imogen Heap, but with an added element of tongue in cheek fun about it. It's a far more poppy outing than their previous albums, a fusion of mischief, joy, eccentricity, melancholy, which all melds together seamlessly to produce Psapp's most accessible album to date and one which I hope will introduce them to a wider audience.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I Want That
2 Part Like Waves
3 Camel's Back
4 Fickle Ghost
5 Monster Song
6 Somewhere There Is A Record Of Our Actions
8 Fix It
9 Mister Ant