Kammerspiel: A German silent film movement from the 1920s. Translated loosely as ‘intimate play’ – these films were small psychological ruminations focusing generally on one character in few locations, adorned with minimal mise-en-scène and often very light on dialogue subtitling. Within that context the smallest of gestures could become sweeping statements on a characters emotional state, and as such it’s a rather perfect parallel to draw with the hushed soundscapes found on the debut album by Glasgow based duo Conquering Animal Sound. Their patchwork of hazy drones, looped guitars and delicate crackling beats strewn with celestial vocals revels in tiny shifts which burrow a path towards grand gestures, slowly escalating and expanding in to more dramatic territory.
In a similar way to how Kammerspiel was a more humble and refined sibling to the more popular Expressionist movement of the same era, Conquering Animal Sound position themselves somewhere along the gamut of experimental pop occupied by the likes of Björk and Fever Ray. They too are less melodramatic than those counterparts, less concerned with ‘the show’ and less overtly fantastical but instead quietly exploratory of the human psyche in all its whimsical caveats of light and shade. There’s a suitably opaque feel to the record, and the lyrics are particularly difficult to conclusively interpret as a whole. There’s sometimes an undercurrent of menace thread through Anneke Kampan’s lyrics, particularly on ‘Bear’ (“rip my arms to shreds”) which provides a great juxtaposition with the wide-eyed naivety inherent in her voice. Also on ‘Flinch’ the records often cognitive tone is brought in to focus with the line “I will be you and you will be me” and throughout the lyrics do tend to avoid dealing with any kind of explicit notion of personal self, they’re almost communal and always open to subjective interpretation, which is unusually liberating given the intimate atmosphere. In fact, musically speaking, the climax on that track is one of the few moments in which they emerge from the foggy production aesthetic and find a fleeting sense of complete clarity.
Rarely does anything seem too clear on this album and the manipulation of sounds is magical at points, with reverb drenched vocals enveloping themselves until they become slow crystalline drones and James Scott’s draped guitar lines stretching out like vast orchestral canvasses. Conquering Animal Sound specialise in layering simple sounds that continually become more inextricably linked, and much more complex to decipher. Despite adopting a more consistently electronic approach there are similarities to be drawn with the dreamy psych-folk of Paavoharju or Múm, both in the tone of wonderment and in the organic nature of their sounds. Entirely home recorded, there’s a tangible warmth emitted from it as a whole, with everything wrapped in a diaphanous layer of tape hiss. This warmth is essentially the biggest triumph of Kammerspiel, and it’s demonstrated most effectively on ‘Crawl’ when Kampman repeatedly drawls “I will leave my window open for you” it comes across as a remarkably sweet statement and with one line forms a tone many artists would struggle to articulate in a whole song.
Kammerspiel is a strange beguiling creature which plays out in it’s own world, it is at times fragile, at others noisy, often vulnerable and sometimes scary. Full appreciation of its complex charms require immersion in this world to absorb and form your own interpretation of its ever fluctuating and adapting landscapes. Whether or not it’s actually the conquering of animal sound is anyone’s guess but it is thoroughly impressive and almost certainly one of the most accomplished debuts 2011 will see.