BC Camplight - Performing solo with piano
Performing solo with piano
“The Last Rotation Of Earth”
(Bella Union – 12th May 2023)
Is there a curse that says Brian ‘BC Camplight’ Christinzio cannot move forward without being knocked back? That the greatest material is born out of emotional trauma?
Whilst making his new album The Last Rotation Of Earth, Christinzio’s relationship with his fiancé crumbled after nine inseparable years. The album follows this break-up amid long-term struggles with addiction and declining mental health. The outcome is an extraordinary record, with Christinzio describing it as “more cinematic, sophisticated and nuanced than anything I’ve done before.” He goes on to describe how the separation altered his creative focus and caused him to “scrap 95% of what I’d already recorded”, finishing The Last Rotation Of Earth in two months and making what he believes to his most vital album.
Still, Christinzio doesn’t see any of this as a story of redemption. “This is not a story of victory,” he says. “It is a document created in the shadow of incredible darkness. One from which the creator hadn't planned on escaping, and still doesn't. Hence the title of the album. It is the result of an illness that I've battled my whole life. It isn't something that the world has done to me. It's the world I live in and it's no one's fault.”
That Christinzio has bettered his previous album is an achievement, given that Shortly After Takeoff received the best reviews of his life. “A masterpiece,” said The Guardian’s 5 star review, “a half hour or so that roils with anxiety, stuns with beauty and, occasionally, provokes laughter.” Even then, fate intervened when the album was released in April 2020, just as Covid and lockdown kicked in, so he was unable to tour the record until late 2021. The Philadelphian then joked, “I can't wait to make an album that isn’t surrounded by some awful tragedy.”
Talk about tempting fate. But it’s true to say that Christinzio has made his best music under immense duress, and The Last Rotation Of Earth is an inimitable work; a heady, heavy slice of lustrous hooks, moods bursting with classical sophistication and fractured paranoia. Christinzio’s signature dizzying progressions and U-turns are executed with a masterful hand. A notable feature of the album are periodic conversational voices, as if a cast of people were delivering their lines – which was exactly part of Christinzio’s thinking. “I wanted to make the songs resemble little films, with lots of ideas,” he says. “I love surprises in music, which work against what we are trained to expect in a song.”
There is no better entry to the Camplight school of sound and vision than the opening title track and lead single. “For the first time since I arrived in Manchester,” he says, “I thought, why am I here? I came to find my music, and to find her, and she’s gone. I do everything in my power not to be dramatic, but I didn’t want to be alive anymore. So, I imagined what your last day on earth would be like. Though the lyrics are often quite sweet, like appreciating the looks that strangers give each other, from the perspective of a guy soaking up every last bit of life.”
The audio-verité approach is clearest on track two, ‘The Movie’, a fully-fledged dramarama with “scene one” and “scene two,” directions. “I don’t find writing cathartic,” says Christinzio, “but this was one exception. To step outside as the narrator to my own life did help in some psychotic way. It ends with a verbatim exchange of my break-up, but with humour. I don’t want to say how shitty everything is over a 38-minute record. I’m still capable of being funny and alive.” The Last Rotation Of Earth is the best example yet of these musical and lyrical powers, and the increasing impact that he has been making, across his fan base and his peers. Humour has long served as respite within Christinzio’s art.
Black comedy also extends to Christinzio’s world-class live shows, a typically exhilarating, phrenetic and exhausting experience for both performer and audience. Headlining Bella Union’s 25th birthday show in November 2022, he pulled a couch on to the stage, as a prop to reinforce the idea of music and performance-as-therapy; his between-songs patter is equally charged and self-deprecating. The dynamic of light and shade also impacts the music.
Frankly, The Last Rotation Of Earth is dark. In musical terms alone, ‘Life In A Dozen Years’ is a form of sepulchral soul haunted by saxophone and ruffled by bleak stabs of guitar. Christinzio returns to his catatonic break-up on ‘She’s Gone Cold’, which indeed feels icy with a sombre orchestral undertow from members of the Liverpool Philharmonic, and killer lines that attempt to deflect the pain with humour: "She asks what we're building, I say 'What do you think this is, Homes Under The Hammer? I'm the perfect man.”
In ‘Going Out On A Low Note’, a euphoric blast of harmonies soundtracks Christinzio’s realisation that he’s not just lamenting the present but the future too (“The kids we’d have had, the swimming pool…” says Christinzio) whilst delivering another true-to-life dissection of the conflict: "I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure, you shouldn't cry when you listen to Faith No More"
“I was slightly concerned I had gone a little too gloomy, so I had ‘Kicking Up A Fuss’ bring the album up a little,” he says; namely, the rhythmic drive of bouncy synths. Yet the song’s tragi-comic scenario is anything but upbeat, with Christinzio, “in a flea-bag hotel in Liverpool, struggling with the words to the song, thinking, how did I end up here, watching Dickenson’s Real Deal?” But then he clocks a figure out of his window, about to jump off a building, and imagines that it’s that man’s last day on earth…
‘The Mourning’ is a slow, wordless elegy that takes the album out on a low note. “No grand finale, more, ‘I wonder what happens next’,” says Christinzio. “After everything people have been through, they’re suspicious of happy endings. Like I said, this is not a redemption saga.”
So, what does lie ahead? And can Christinzio ever trust the future? When he began releasing records in 2005, backed by members who would eventually join The War On Drugs, and guest-starring on Sharon Van Etten’s Epic album, the future looked bright. “But if I’d stayed,” he once mused, “I’d be dead. Period.” So Christinzio took a friend’s advice to escape his alcohol and drug addictions in Philly and move to Manchester, leading to his debut album for Bella Union, How To Die In The North; though just two days before it was released in 2014, he was deported . Back in the UK (with an Italian passport), he made Deportation Blues but just days before it was released in 2016, his father died, triggering a breakdown that inspired Shortly After Takeoff, the last part of what Christinzio calls his Manchester Trilogy.
So, he must begin again; new album, newly single, clean slate. And without tempting fate again, before the last rotation of earth, BC Camplight and his band will tour The Last Rotation Of Earth, including his biggest headline shows to date, at London Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Manchester’s Albert Hall. “It’s wonderful to realise the songs in front of that many people,” says Christinzio, “I know I’m never going to be Coldplay, but ten years ago, I was certain I wouldn’t make music again.”
Ten years later Christinzio is still making important music, still channelling the forces that have beleaguered him and making the most honest and candid work he can, because anything else wouldn’t be BC Camplight.