El Campo share a laugh.

El Campo share a laugh. Photo courtesy of Zachary Hunt Photography

Earlier this month San Antonio-Austin band El Campo released their latest album, “Goldun Stair, Meet You There.”
“Goldun Stair, Meet You There” was written while the lyricist and frontman, Jarid Reed Morris, was battling stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Morris, now in remission, wrote the album while looking death in the face, uncertain if he’d make it out of treatment alive. This translated into his music. The record has the same lonely feeling one gets when deeply contemplating their own mortality and reflecting on the legacy of their life — simultaneously melancholic and blissful while existentially overwhelming and nostalgic. Death as a muse makes the album deeply personal, yet wholly universal and relatable. All this comes through in the music and gives the album a dichotomy that’s both beautiful and haunting.
The album starts with the swinging “In Wisteria.” While only a little longer than two minutes, the track sets the tone for the album. The wailing noise of the steel pedal guitar in the background gives the tracks an almost post-rock feel similar to shoegaze style bands like Explosions in the Sky or Slowdive. The album simultaneously keeps an unmistakably country-western sound. The electric guitars and drums give the album an indie-folk vibe that’s highlighted with emo-like chords that contribute to the album’s tightly produced sound reflected in songs like “Two Bulleits and a Beam” and “In an Absolute Superlative.” These sounds are only magnified with Morris’ singing style.
Morris’ vocals sound like the lovechild of Billy Bragg and Conor Oberst’s. His delivery emotionally carries the listener through the album. Unlike Oberst’s vocal style, Morris’ conveys the vulnerability of facing your own mortality without being overly shakey. His vocal talent and range is displayed throughout the album, more prominently on the track “The Prettier of Two Sisters,” where his only other accompaniment is an acoustic guitar. On “The New Criticism,” Morris passionately frys his vocals.
One of the band’s strengths is mixing genres, which is why it is so hard to label them under a single genre. Songs like “The Prettier of Two Sisters” and “Old Paint” have a vulnerable and intimate singer/songwriter style, whereas tracks like “The New Criticism” and the penultimate track “Paint Rock” give the album a more indie-rock vibe with their use of overdrive guitars and pop-rock drum beats. Tracks like “Red on Yellow, Kill A Fellow” and “Old Paint” sound like Bright Eyes B-sides. However, where the band is strongest is found in its alt-country roots.
The melancholiness and ennui does tend to weigh the album down and I admit I became exhausted at points while trying to listen to it all the way through. However, if you’re a fan of Elliott Smith, Billy Bragg, Wilco, or older Bright Eyes albums there’s something in this album for you. “Goldun Stair, Meet You There” compounds the best of those artists while producing a completely original sound.

7/10

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