- San Diego, California - In progressive genres of music, there's a quality of experimentation that I like to call the challenge of the artist. This quality is rooted in the degree to which a particular artist breaks or reinvents established musical conventions. This challenge can be exaggerated or muted by the quantity of elements in the song that are familiar to the listener; artists like Bjork tend to maximize the challenge of their music by overturning conventional rhythm, melody, and harmony simultaneously; artists such as Radiohead tend to cusion the challenge of their songs with either familiar rhythm (see OK Computer) or familiar melody/harmony (see In Rainbows). The balance between the challenging and the familiar is a defining aspect of a progressive artist and can affect how effectively they express their musical ideas to their listeners.
The challenge in Camille's Le Fil varies from track to track, but in general tends to be somewhat accessible, in spite of the melodic themes and instrumental arrangements with which the artist experiments. As a result, it's one of the easiest progressive albums for me to recommend to music listeners that may not be used to challenging music.
The first source of challenge in Le Fil is melodic; beneath the entire album, a single tone plays continuously; Camille described this tone as "her note"; the album is an exploration of ways that songs can be built upon that note. The second source of challenge in the album is in the instrumental arrangement; the major rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic instrument in the album is her voice. Much like Regina Spektor and Bjork, Camille treats her voice not only as a tool for delivering lyrics but as a expressive melodic instrument. The concept behind the album is certainly unique, and while the voice-as-instrument may not be incredibly unususal for progressive artists, it is certainly several steps outside the mainstream.
Camille mitigates this challenge for the listener, however, by sticking to conventional compositional structures, consistent rhythmic arrangements, and pleasant harmonic pairings. Nearly all of the songs use verse/chorus or verse/verse structures; as a result, the songs are easily memorable. Though the rhythm in the tracks is often performed by a combination of voice and percussion, the majority of the tracks remain in the 4/4 time signature, and once a particular rhythm is established, it remains the same, with a few variations, for the entire verse or section. Similarly, though the instrumental use of multi-layered, non-lyric vocal parts is unconventional in modern music, the actual melodies and harmonies that Camille assembles with those voices generally remain in harmony. This may sound like a strange distinction, but artists such as Radiohead and Bjork often experiment heavily with dissonance (see Radiohead's "Electioneering" and Bjork's "Dark Matter"). These conventional elements in Le Fil "cushion" the challenging elements in the album, providing a familiar base from which the listener can reach into Camille's thematic and instrumental exploration.
The balance Camille struck between challenge and convention in Le Fil results in a musical experience that can be enjoyed in a variety of environments. The unconventional persistent-note concept and voice-as-instrument arrangement choice causes it to be an intriguing critical listen, whereas the consistency in verse/chorus structure, rhythm, and soothing harmony cause it to function well as "background music" for a personal or social environment. Though it may not strike new musical territory quite as boldly as other progressive artists, its versatility makes it a valuable contribution to the progressive scene.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes