Things You Already Know — Image via innova.mu

Things You Already Know

Chris Campbell

It’s taken me a while to get around to reviewing composer Chris Campbell‘s album Things You Already Know, released earlier this year on Innova Recordings. Partially that’s because I haven’t been quite sure what to make of it. Though it features an octet of classical string players (including members of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra) and an expanded rhythm section of local indie rock musicians, Things You Already Know falls neither into one of those genres nor any recognizable space between them. Rather, it comes across as a personal mélange of styles and influences filtered through a distinctive compositional process.

The bulk of Things You Already Know‘s 34-minute running time is taken up by four main pieces, each of which proceeds through a series of episodes that shift, layer on top of each other, and recur in a manner that Campbell compares to moving between the rooms of a house. Three shorter, piano-driven pieces at the beginning, middle, and end of the album function mostly as palate cleansers. In the longer pieces, a diverse range of homemade instruments, most of them percussive in nature, appear alongside strings, electronic instruments, and occasional filtered vocals.

The first of these longer pieces, Lord Byron, is a good example of what listeners can expect from the album as a whole. It starts out sounding like the opening of some kind of power ballad before the strings swell up and then disperse into mostly quiet, percussive soundscape occasionally intruded upon by an aggressive fuzz guitar. The strings never completely disappear, though, and at one point they try to assert a more rousing melody before being beaten back by the percussion. Eventually, a cello introduces a bittersweet tune that morphs back into the opening music, transformed into something more subtle. Once again this music disperses, closing the piece. All of this happens in less than six minutes. The rest of the album features similar twists and turns, though the longest piece, Water Variations, tends to rest in one place for longer, and all of its sections are held together by the sound of plucked strings.

Things You Already Know is probably best understood and experienced as the document of its composition and collaborative realization than as a polished finished product. In any case, it’s an engaging piece of work that tends to seep into your consciousness after a few listens. It will be interesting to see where Campbell’s approach to musical creation will take him in the future.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.

3 thoughts on “Things You Already Know”

  1. Title implies there is nothing new in the arrangement? Maybe he was just trying to entertain instead of being original?

    Charles Anderson
    Happy New Year

    1. To me the title is a good description of the way bits of music recur throughout the album, but it could definitely refer to external influences as well.

      As far as your other question goes, the About page goes into that a little, but ultimately, the blog needed a name, and we didn’t want to delay launching it while trying to find the perfect one, so we went with one that had a bit of a rationale behind it and that we hoped would be at least a little memorable.

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