Camper Van Beethoven – Telephone Free Landslide Victory (spinART reissue)

5 out of 5

Label: spinART

Produced by: Camper Van Beethoven (?)

I love Camper Van Beethoven; I love Telephone Free Landslide Victory. It’s an album I own multiple copies of, because why not; but the spinART reissue – which curiously rearranges some tracks, adds the Take the Skinheads Bowling EP and some extras – is my preferred way of listening to it, as I actually think the expanded noodling helps to flesh out the album’s sound well. And it’s just nice to spend more time with this era of CVB.

…Which is a very specific thing, and which would lead me to my slight criticism of the original version of this: that the group’s slackerdom is so overwhelming at this point that they purposefully play themselves out of a more well-rounded album – I’d say they start approaching by the time of their third, self-titled release and then begin to flesh out thereafter. Is that something I’d only know in retrospect? I don’t think so: I bought Telephone Free Landslide Victory based on some tracks on a cassette a cousin mixtaped for me, and I listened to it through and through at that point – my first CVB album. Perhaps it’s my admitted inability to fully rank “comedy” music alongside more serious fare, but while pretty much every track on this set (both the original and this expanded version) is notable in some way, the abundance of nonsense lyrics has always added an affectation to the listen that’s akin to the teen who won’t apply himself because he just can’t be bothered, dude. And that was totally what the band was going for, so I should give them credit for that, except that the music is so rich and rewarding and fun that it makes for a slight discrepancy: within that same metaphor, you already know the band is capable of much more than they’re offering.

That said, this remains a unique, if recognizable, sound for CVB, as it was their most college-rock, mashing up ska and klezmer and punk with the Americana that would become their more dominant sound hereafter. While I can call it “college-rock” and you’ll get it, the exact combo, and smirking cleverness of how it’s pulled off, is one of the band’s own design – I don’t know that anyone else has nailed the weirdass don’t-give-a-fig hooks of Take the Skinheads Bowling or The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon. And despite my criticism suggesting that the album is somewhat limited, that doesn’t translate to a lack of musical moods and approaches, bounding from playfully dumb to precise instrumentals to some pretty epic sounding stuff that’d be way beyond the loose jangle college rock would become in the Pavement era, and again, this ante is simply upped by the extra tracks: more of all the good things, well seeded into an already great album.

And so those extras make me add an extra star to what would otherwise be a 4-star review, noting that this is how I’d suggest listening to the album – it’s just enough added material to rather solidify (in case you didn’t know) that CVB have actual chops and aren’t all just silly lyrics and riffs, without so much that it weighs down listening to the album start to finish.