Psapp The Camel's Back(Domino) Buy it from Insound
London’s Psapp, paragons of experimental cuteness, kept my one year-old daughter entertained long enough for me to make dinner one night. Her tastes currently informed by kid-friendly fare from the likes of The Wiggles, Yo Gabba-Gabba and The Backyardigans, I assumed that something as unthreatening to the ears as The Camel’s Back, latest album to emerge from Psapp’s modified toy chest, would occupy her not-so-critical, though easily disrupted, attention span.
And, it did.
Psapp, a duo comprised of singer Galia Durant and sound maestro Carim Clasmann, have built a reputation as the progenitors of toytronica, a genre blending electronica and the unique sound characteristics of toy instruments. As my daughter’s agreeable reception of The Camel’s Back accurately communicated the overtly pleasant nature of Psapp’s toy-centricity, to me this cute and cuddly spiritedness detracts from the band’s inventiveness and forfeits the provocation that typically accompanies something experimental.
A step above 2006’s The Only Thing I Ever Wanted, The Camel’s Back expands on Psapp’s instrumentation beginning with a pseudo-Minutemen meets Stereolab jam entitled I Want That. As Durant teeters between temptress and nympho, (“Look at me, I can fill you to the brim/I want to take you on a whim/Gonna make you like it”), a saxophone blasts freeform howls over a Watt-ish bass line, crafting a sleek and danceable bit of indie rock. From there the album gets whimsically orchestral (Part Like Waves) and remains based in a childlike gleam of perpetual toy machinery, though thematically adult.
Music box steam engines (The Camel’s Back), bottle-cap percussion (Somewhere There Is A Record Of Our Actions), chugga-chugga Kraftwerk-ian energy (Mister Ant), a charmed attempt at a Cabaret-versus-Chicago musical number (Parker), Clasmann varies the formula enough to keep their vehicle from hitting any homogenized walls. The Camel’s Back never sounds tired though Psapp’s brand of accessibly offbeat nuance could potentially cultivate a breed of hipster that considers their horizons artistically broadened. One can easily imagine, as Psapp are already tied to something so recognized as Grey’s Anatomy, (their song, Cosy In The Rocket, is the show’s theme music), The Camel’s Back on any shelf in any Yuppie domicile, ready to be tapped for a pleasant oddity (Marshrat) or cute dance track (The Monster Song).
In the song Fix It, Durant sings, “We have bitten off more than we could chew/Now, we are running out of things we can do.” While The Camel’s Back demonstrates a clear progression in Psapp’s worth as songwriters and musicians, it becomes easy to ignore what they accomplish creatively as the ears only pick up on its “cuteness” factor. An expression of artistic growth, The Camel’s Back is still a victim of its own gimmick.
But, it at least made my daughter smile.