There is a very telling interlude before Brian Christinzio (who goes by BC Camplight) begins the track “Ghosthunting” from his new album, Shortly After Takeoff. The noise of a live audience rises, and then Brian jokes:
“I don’t care about being accessible anymore”.
“For the whole first half of this record I thought I had a really bad disease.”
“Turns out I’m just mentally ill”.
[The room falls silent]
Though Brian goes on to crack some more jokes before the music comes in, he’s dead right in this gesture. The really hilarious humour in so much of Shortly after Takeoff is undercut hard by the jarring mental health struggles, which he concludes will make him quite inaccessible to many – correctly, I would guess. Take this exchange with his mum in the track “Back to Work”:
I told my Mom I wanted to kill myself/
She said “Brian, grow up/
You’re 40 years old, ain’t it time to stop that shit”/
But I can’t change the world/
And by the way, Mom/
I’m 41 and I’ve just begun/
The more he jokes about his mum not knowing his age, the more poignant his underlying depression feels to me.
All this pain put to one side for a moment though – for any of us who may have struggled to cope with life at times, Shortly After Takeoff is a really fantastically entertaining album. It’s witty, sarcastic, and caustic and then suddenly sad in turns. It’s musically playful too, with tiny drum machines and boxy synths set against broader piano and guitar tones, and then Brian’s delicate and often beautiful voice, itself quite moving (even when he’s singing about dreams of being in a mafiosa gang, outside a chip shop in Oldham).
How does Brian manage to pull all this off without dropping all the balls he has in the air? I’d say it’s largely to do with the rounded picture we get of his persona. Unapologetically complex, it’s perfectly capable of finding dark humour in sad scenes, and then sadness in the absurdities of day to day life.
As a result, he’s empowered to write songs with such disparate threads as watching Die Hard 2 (38 times), waking up outside a Nando’s in a banana suit (which wasn’t even his), or getting pulled over outside Chester Zoo, having stolen a Koala.
If some of these references seem just a little bit niche to you, you’d be right. Although this is partly the lack of accessibility front and centre again, it would be a pity to give up on this album on that basis. These are stories which place Brian as an American transplant in a VERY Mancunian world. I’ll admit that, as someone who loves Manchester, I’m a sucker for these kinds of anecdotes. Still, they are the basis for Brian’s strange and off-kilter world, and that should draw anyone in – anyone, at least, who is ready for something wonderfully unusual.
Words by Nick Parker