Material: “This record was a long fucking time coming,” says the band Karen Campbell on the Bandcamp page for their Vanilla EP, which came out in October of last year. We don’t really know for how long they were working on it, but judging by the six tracks that make up the finished product, and the quality of the material that they perform at The Prospector in Long Beach during a midweek show, it was well worth the effort. There’s a chill, hazy vibe to “No Setting Sun” and “Erase My Name” that seems very Californian with a shoegaze twist. Elements of Dinosaur Jr. and the Violent Femmes intertwine in songs that are deceptively simple but ultimately warm and blessed with lyrical depth. “Go back in time and erase my name, and then it wouldn’t be so hard so to move on,” sings Baum on “Erase My Name.” We have no intention of doing any such thing.
Musicianship: Again, these songs seem so simple, but there’s an onion thing going on here. You have to peel away the layers. The three musicians are fully in sync with each other, and the lo-fi noise is expertly executed. Like many garage rock bands, occasional bursts of feedback and fuzz disguise the fact that that these guys are adept musicians. It’s not that they’re trying to disguise it, though. Rather, they know exactly what each song requires.
Performance: There’s not a lot going on here, to be honest. They all crouch over their instruments like some weird shoegaze coven. They don’t look particularly spectacular, and they barely speak between songs. The whole show is in those songs. Mind you, there is pleasure to be gained in watching Baum’s pained expressions as he wrenches each lyric
out of his psyche.
Summary: The biggest initial surprise about Karen Campbell is that it’s a band made up of three men, rather than a female solo performer. That truly is a confusing name, which led to some misdirection when looking them up online in advance. But no matter––it only took a couple of tunes for us to realize that this is a great band. How much success they’ll have remains to be seen––the shoegaze sound isn’t necessarily charting right now. But a strong, loyal fanbase isn’t out of reach.
Players: Mike Baum, guitar, vocals; Justin Vasquez, drums; Cameron Zastera, bass