VAMALA is a word used by Isle of Wight fishermen for a certain type of dangerous storm that comes in suddenly off the sea.
It is also the name of the new album from Isle of Wight siblings CHAMPS. released on 23rd February 2015 by Play It Again Sam.
Thankfully for Michael and David Champion, their second outing – following last year’s unexpected but phenomenal debut ‘Down Like Gold’ – is all sunshine with not a storm cloud in sight.
VAMALA’s opener is ‘Desire’, the uptempo first single off the album with a beautifully shot accompanying video featuring lithe dancers in winter light, cold shadows and shades of grey, undertaking acrobatic movements. It mimics the album cover which has the two brothers captured in mid-flight; I’d say definitely on the way up!
Whilst the imagery might be all winter light and cold shadows, the sound is bursting with warmth and colour and the overall production captures the best of the gorgeous harmonies and carefully chosen instrumentation. I know it’s a cliche that only brothers seem to be able to achieve these kind of luscious harmonies but on the evidence of CHAMPS it is true (think Everlys). Listening to VAMALA is a little like sitting on a window ledge on a rainy day watching the world outside pass by whilst drinking some hot soup as the open fire heats your face.
There is an interesting dichotomy actually with CHAMPS’ work which covers sadness and melancholy lyrically but delivers upbeat, melodic warmth sonically. You can pick almost any song off VAMALA and the overwhelming sensation is one of joyous satisfaction, whatever the subject matter. I like melancholia in my music a lot but if it is overwhelmingly so then sometimes the songs become so associated to a life event that they can’t be experienced without recalling the emotions of that event – good or bad. Overly melancholic songs then become more like photographs – snapshots in time – when what you want is a movie, an ongoing experience. VAMALA is definitely like the latter, and it is a movie that is epic in scale, like one you swear you’ve seen before but know you haven’t and with each repeat visit new elements are revealed.
“The record-buying attention span is shorter these days,” says Michael. “There’s so much new music out there, so we wanted to get an album out quickly. But only as we had the songs.”
Quality control is important but if CAHMPS have songs of this quality ready to go then why wait? There is certainly no sophomore stumble here from CHAMPS and the fact that they are able to put out 12 songs of this quality just about a year after their debut says a lot for their creative talent and also their work ethic. There is a clear progression from their debut, partly down to them decamping to London for the recording of the album and partly down to the brothers’ choice of producer, Dimitri Tikovoi, who has worked with the likes of Goldfrapp and Placebo. The Frenchman was able to add new tonal colour, including electronics, to the duo’s sonic palate. This comes through not only in the sounds but also the themes which see the brothers reflecting on their experiences of London, New York and Berlin, a million miles away from the slow pace of the Isle of Wight.
“Dimitri’s from a pop background,” says David, “and wasn’t scared to add different elements, like the drums at the start of VAMALA, which are almost urban.”
There are some nice uptempo numbers on VAMALA including the opener and the title track (sounding very Slow Club by the way!) and I dare you not to tap your feet along to them – they pack punch but retain their CHAMPS-ness (if that’s a word?!).
There are some gorgeously plaintive numbers including the beautiful ‘Sophia’ and the heartbreaking ‘Send Me Down’ and then there’s ‘Running’ with it’s vaguely oriental-sounding melody. As you would expect, there are some stunning ballads such as ‘Forever Be Upstanding at the Door’ with it’s lovely folksy sound combined with haunting choral voices. Another ballad, ‘The Balfron Tower’ – where Michael lived with his German girlfriend – is named after a 27-storey residential building in London’s East End, designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger (yep, that was his real name) and is associated with the brutalist style of 1960’s architecture. There’s nothing brutal about the song though, which is just lovely and the tinkling piano refrain is just perfect.
And there is the straight ahead folk of ‘Roll Me Out’ with floaty backing vocals (sounding like the sea that the song is describing) reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Only Living Boy in New York’. The brothers even manage to knock out a couple of Snow Patrol / Coldplay style stadium anthems with ‘Blood’ and album closer ‘Carnival of Light’.
Although they have pushed their sound to new places lyrically and sonically on VAMALA, the stunning vocal harmonies of Michael and David and the continuing themes of running, yearning, chasing and missing make this unmistakably and definitively a CHAMPS record. VAMALA shows two brothers seemingly unable to put a creative foot wrong.
On the title track the duo sing “I want to beat the world” and on this evidence I think they just might.
4. Forever Be Upstanding At The Door
5. Send Me Down
6. 3000 Miles
8. The Balfron Tower
10. Down (Alone On The Avenue)
11. Roll Me Out
12. The Devil’s Carnival