It’s unusual for bands to exhibit a fully formed sense of direction on their debut album. Yet Sydney trio Cameras are a curious proposition not because they seem so sure of their sound, but because they have two from which to choose.
In Your Room is named for its one wordless song, with vocal duties shared across the remaining tracks between Eleanor Dunlop and Fraser Harvey. Both singers bring distinct styles and a shift in atmosphere with every switch. This dichotomy sustains ample interest but is hard to reconcile, which provokes the suspicion that Cameras are caught between visions.
Opener ‘Polarise’ is brink-teetering music, taut with threat and swelling with suspense. The sense of tension stems chiefly from Dunlop’s striking tones, mixing with a maelstrom of stark keys and staccato percussion. For all the quavering thunder rolls, sadly the only easily intelligible lyrics (“polarise the hell out of me”) are weak enough to undermine the effect, and the early promise (like echoes of ‘Sorrow’ by The National at the start) is lost to the ether.
Second song ‘Kreuzberg’ is the other side of the Cameras’ coin: an uncomplicated, big-boned alt-rock track, supplying drive and oomph in place of churning whirl. Whereas Dunlop steers her songs into roily, sombre waters, awash with arcing vocal ahhhs, Harvey’s songs set out like much modern, metrosexually masculine, bruised guitar rock. Like penultimate track ‘Defeatist’ (the most memorable of the album), ‘Kreuzberg’ is imposing and fervent, bold and robust. Here is the band not at their most distinctive but their most direct; punching hardest, solid and sincere.
Subsequent songs sort, roughly, either side of this divide. When Dunlop dawdles, the turbulence stops tantalising and becomes a little impenetrable. Injections of extra pace are welcome, gears changing though Cameras play with a power rarely under full throttle. By flitting back and forth between styles, however, In Your Room risks losing some momentum.
Although the lyrics are really lacking, Harvey’s anthemic if conventional verse-chorus romps mostly survive, and it matters only intermittently to Dunlop’s sprawling soundscapes, where her voice is more an instrument. ‘June’ is a strong point, the trick of immersive repetition well played, but it’s only on the title track that this expansive first album really conjures the intense aura that it should. An experimental instrumental, ‘In Your Room’ creates a sonorous ghostly clamour with atmospheric chorals adding to the effect.
Cameras’ debut is bold and brave, poised and often strong. The compositions are lavish and intricate, the commitment not in doubt, but the songs sometimes fall short of the sum. Trailed as heirs to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The National, there is just enough here to show Cameras can be worthy of their influences. Strobing, avant-garde art-rock and bruised, potent understatement might be hard to marry – but it will be fun to see how Cameras get on.
Listen to In Your Room