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October 20, 2011

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Pause delivers catchy tunes ideal for campfire

AS far as genres go, "extreme campfire" seems to be as descriptive as any in the nomenclature of music genres.

After all, jazz and rock 'n' roll are both juju terms with little definite meaning (though both are more than vaguely sexual in etymology); punk refers more to the performer, as does grunge; classical is a nice way to say irrelevant; and folk refers to people. Let's not even get started on bebop, doo wop and hip-hop.

Extreme campfire, however, has a descriptive adjective and a juicy looking noun.

So what to make of extreme campfire, the genre Shanghai band Pause claims to have founded with their recently released self-titled debut album? Their description: "Basically campfire music, just more extreme." Let's break this down.

Campfire music is songs you'd expect to sing and hear while out with some buddies in a forest area, wondering why you forsook central heating and microwaves (or something like that). It follows that it's acoustic, simple, likely featuring multiple vocal parts, and wistful in tone.

There's also usually someone banging rhythm on a drum-like contraption, though I will report to you immediately that I heard no hand drums on Pause, so rest assured.

Music making may be egalitarian under circumstances, but music criticism isn't, so you need some solid tunes that at least evoke a fun time out in the woods with friends. Thankfully, they're here.

A perfect example is Pause's cover of Fleetwood Mac's classic "Second Hand News." The opening acoustic guitar riff by Marc Cabianca rings loud and true, bringing in the eventual wordless sing along refrain.

"The Table" features about a dozen words and is sung in round like perhaps the ultimate campfire song "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," until it forms a hypnotic, moody soup.

It also helps that the soft yet sensual vocals of Colleen Levy, the raspy counterpoint of Cabianca, and the harmonies of Jenny Fremlin are at their sharpest, and the subtle restructuring of the lyrics at the end of the song is highly effective.

Back to the genre talk. So what does the "extreme" refer to?

Perhaps it's the pan-hemispheric use of the erhu, a Chinese instrument played by Shanghainese group member Alex Yao. That's unusual for music in the Western idiom, but the sound is very similar in color to a fiddle, spry ("I Woke Up in a Clearcut") on occasion, but more likely mournful, floating over the songs with a lonesome mew.

Perhaps it's careful orchestration and structuring of the songs, which have a loose jam feel during the instrumental solos but avoid the pitfall of stretching out aimlessly. This is emphasized by the production, which is crisp and intimate.

Perhaps it's just extreme self-assuredness that comes from putting out a quality album. I'm still not sure. I just look forward to hearing the next one extremely soon.


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