Champale – Simple Days

Simple Days

Taking their name from a liquor of ill repute, Champale’s musical pedigree nonetheless reads like a roll call of New York indie rock hipsters, with members of Luna, Pizzicato Five, Clem Snide, 44, and Nada Surf making up the roster. In what could be expected to be a messy, unfocused work, with every member angling to put their stamp on 1/5 of the album, the final result sounds surprisingly cohesive and altogether collaborative. Everyone seems to have a hand in the mix, as all that experience adds up to what sounds like a combination of all of those bands to some extent.
With the rather usual assortment of guitar, bass, and drums, Champale’s sonic distinctiveness ultimately comes from the inclusion of cello, trumpet, and vibes. While at times, the resulting sound is a somewhat less psychedelic Beulah crossed with a more adventurous Matthew Sweet, for the most part, Champale is a purely modern alterno-pop band. You can hear an occasional nod to bands like Big Star in tracks like the achingly pensive “’68 Comeback,” almost like the Pernice Brothers completely drained of their country influences, just as you can feel a more intricate power-pop aesthetic in the spacey, hypnotic “See You Around.” Best of all, they never lock into any particular formula, just casually wondering through any number of subdued pop tones without lighting too heavily on any particular sound.
As such, it’s most impressive that Champale does have what could more or less be termed their own sound. The shimmering clear tones of “Hard to Be Easy” and the glistening layers of trumpet and glassy keyboards in “Black Telephone” gorgeously float on a carpet of reverby guitars and exquisitely soaring melodies to form a distinctive blend of soul-pop balladry. When displaying a more rootsy rock approach, with the quietly grunting guitars and driving rhythms of “Special Guest Star” threatening to overwhelm the more subdued chamber pop spirit, stately cello and gliding vibes nonetheless are employed to create a distinctively sophisticated hybrid.
Still, the overall presentation is not tremendously light-hearted or optimistic. Failed relationships and general frustrations of life make up the lyrical setting, presented maturely without any particular grandiose pretense or backhanded obscurity. But even if the songwriting doesn’t necessarily worm its way into your head by the novelty of its words, the triumphant, almost epic quality of the arrangements gives the tracks a winning quality that lasts long after the last song stops spinning. Slightly displaced, slightly aching, but altogether fully realized and without obvious design flaws, Champale crafts a nearly flawless musical product.
In the end, Simple Days is neither quirky or humorous, nor particularly musically innovative or lyrically clever. But there is virtually no wasted space on the album. Nearly every song clicks and does so within its first few moments – no gimmicks, no bangs or whistles – just solid songwriting. They might be named after the cheapest of bottled spirits, but Champale is the brand name of thoroughly indispensable pop.