Young Sick Camellia is the newest album from the fairly fresh soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, which formed in 2012. A camellia is the state flower of Alabama, an homage to the band’s origins from the southern state. Even though St. Paul formed recently, the band has been reasonably prolific in the time that it’s been around, releasing two albums before this in 2014 and 2016 and two EP’s, both in 2013. Young Sick Camellia, released Friday, both pays a careful homage to their previous works and storied geographical heritage while boldy moving forward with new sounds and themes not particularly common in the soul genre. Paul Janeway, the lead vocalist, blends his piercing but smooth vocals with an instrumental background that is at times simultaneously traditional and eccentric. Overall, this results in a highly pleasing musical experience that is both groovy and interesting.
One of the songs that stood out was “Convex,” a jazzy and upbeat piece, which stood in a bit of a contrast compared to some of the other songs on the record. It’s a bright, floral number, giving off a slick, disco-era vibe that serves as a good introduction to the whole album. The song selection provides a nice demonstration of the band’s diversity, as the album features everything from spoken word pieces by the lead vocalist’s grandfather to some further experimental sounds, such as alternative percussion.
Another standout was “Bruised Fruit,” a song that came at the very end of the album. It’s arguably the most “poppy” song on the record, featuring some more mainstream lyrics and vocals, and should probably be presented to someone as an easily digestible number.
Unpacking the meaning behind some of the lyrics like “Judas ain’t dead in modern love / Ambition kills all who want to run / Take it all away” and “Domesticated problems losing all their teeth / Can I police?” is challenging, but go ahead and debate away on songfacts.com as much as you like. Safe to say, though, that the band deals with some complex themes and issues in this work, many of them relating to their southern identity, and how it relates to the rest of America and the world.
The order of the album was interesting, as it really thrusted the listener forward into each coming song. Many of the songs ended with those spoken word pieces, which provided some pacing and intrigue to the music. There didn’t seem to be a definite meaning behind the placement of songs that transcended different genres, but whatever the intention, it led the listener to experience some of the bands intuition and musical creativity at multiple points throughout the listening experience, which can only be a good thing.
The experience was certainly engaging, and much of that can be chalked up to the variety on display. The listener isn’t totally sure as to what they are going to hear next, which can be exhilarating and will certainly hook in someone who may be just be enjoying it casually. While the average person might not be able to be engaged fully with some of the meaning and themes as they go through the album for the first time, their engagement can be heightened on a second listen, if they decide to keep an eye out for some of the ideas, both explicit and hidden.
Young Sick Camelia was certainly an interesting listening experience, and one that likely would appeal to a large variety of listeners. It could be played in the background low key as one is studying, or, attention could be fully devoted to it in order to parse out some of it’s spoken feelings.
A nagging thought that one gets when listening, however, is that this is almost like an outline for a full album, with many parts that have not been fully put in yet. There isn’t an obvious overarching theme or purpose to be found in this music that really ties the whole experience together, and the musical variety, which at times seems liberating, can come off as a bit messy and disorganized at times. Swapping from dramatic orchestral arrangements to more psychedelic elements such as warped pitches, samples, and strings which are used for sound effects rather than chord voicing can feel jarring and unsatisfying at times. Overall, this is a novel piece of music that can be recommended to most people.
Featured Image by Single Lock Records