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In Camera – Era

4AD

In Camera - EraPunk had vaporised into a new beast by the tail end of the Seventies, ripping out of its tri-chord skin into something altogether sleeker and weirder. Luckily for us pleasure-seekers, a then-unknown inquisitor going by the name of Ivo Watts-Russell was scouting around for talent for his fresh-faced label 4AD, mopping up all the post-punk verve he could get his hands on. In retrospect, he had a good ear, way before the likes of Cocteau Twins or the Pixies, a radar for the times you might say, searching out atmospheres that captured/kicked against a certain overcast grey dreariness that anyone living here is all too accustomed to, a zeitgeist-chewed bleakness that he herded into the era-defining Natures Mortes compilation of 1981.

It’s no surprise that In Camera’s first single, “Die Laughing”, was immortalised there. It was a mirror for those times in a defiant militia of percussion, beaming a muscled jackery of elastic noughts’n’crosses and stumbling guitars, vocally strutting a dark, fractured hue that leapt brilliantly into gruff insanity. Even today it holds like an arrow to history repeating itself, but back then it was a lone 7-inch single born out of Ivo catching an impressive support slot from the band for the label’s (then) rising stars, Bauhaus.

In Camera ‎– 13 (Lucky For Some)A beginning that quickly evolved into a four-track EP simply called IV Songs, a blistering article that scored them countless live gigs and yielded their final (and outstanding) document, aptly called Fin, for shortly after the quartet disbanded and dissolved back into obscurity only two hectic years after they had begun. There they remained until Teenbeat and 4AD resurrected their legacy on the 13 (Lucky For Some) CD (the accompanying artwork of which still makes me shudder), tagging on a few remixes for good measure that were far too dance-friendly for my liking. It was here where I was first bitten by In Camera’s smarting aesthetics and angular grinds; ahhhh… many a fond memory blaring out their vibes from my (much-missed) silver Fiesta.

Anyhow, bringing matters bang up to date is this new (well-overdue) anthology that gathers up the poke of the studio shenanigans whilst heralding in previously unheard demos, rehearsal tapes and live recordings. As you could imagine I was gagging to hear this two-disc collection, being a long-term fan — and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed.

The first disc beckons in the familiar energy of the studio recordings, those razored guitars and Congolese percussives all still surprisingly potent some 35 years later, mingling here with session takes that would go on to become the band’s epitaph, Fin. Three stonking tracks, captured here in their original Peel Session state (for the first time ever, I believe), and I’m really surprised to hear how barbed (almost fully formed) they are minus the post-production polish. “Fatal Day”’s notching frets are a touch ram-shackled in places, but nothing that upsets that vortex following the narrative to its ultimate conclusion. David Steiner‘s vocals make the mundane monumental, linchpinning the details to the growing drama as those disembodied hums Evostik to the pounding background, and “Co-Ordinates” and “Apocalypse” in particular sound more chaotically urgent and over-driven.

Disc two starts with an unreleased morsel, “Scars”, a suitability stark example of In Camera’s creativity (why it never got further than demo is anybody’s guess), its potential hue-thrown into your ear like a robotic adolescent with a synthetic seethe popping from that glinting strut – it’s just begging to wallow in a production makeover. An early interpretation of “Apocalypse” follows like a horse-backed skeleton, a radiated breeze blowing through its bony frame as its slower tempo eases you into its brooding Jake and Dinos Chapman diorama.

Now, I’m not a big fan of live recordings, especially pre-digital — everything is too often muffled or hiss-soaked — so I was pleasantly surprised by the four presented here. The quality isn’t only atmospheric, but clean enough to properly discern the details, showcasing three previously unreleased tunes too, the irksome additions back in the ’90s shown in their original zest: “Colour In The Home” (recorded as early as 1979) still clings to a punk shadow, the funk-footed “Deflowered” with its desiccated spurts of vocal and “On The Retina”’s hammered and gnarly commitments, all of which makes you envious you weren’t actually present. A live version of “The Conversation” is included too, its shadowy symmetry and Satie splinters exacted in guitar, tumbling percussion and the gliss soak of the cymbals instead of the original’s echoic piano.

For the completest there’s five bonus rehearsals succinctly bringing the second CD (or last side of vinyl) to a close, which give further insight into the raw magic of some of In Camera’s finest moments. Moments that are intense, unadorned and frankly bloody excellent. Novice or seasoned listener, this collection throws the inquisitive plenty.

-Michael Rodham-Heaps-

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