Brian Campeau – Old Dog, New Tricks


Brian Campeau - Old Dog, New Tricks (Art As Catharsis / Small Pond) 2018


Even though this guy has been around for ages, Brian Campeau remains a relatively unknown entity in the world of folk music. It might be due to his low output (Old Dog, New Tricks is Campeau’s fourth full-length studio album since he came on the scene in 2006) or it might be due to the fact that what he produces can hardly be characterised as folk music at all. From his debut album Two Faces to Don’t overthink it, overthink, overthinking (released in 2015), Campeau’s work is characterised by virtuoso acoustic guitar playing, glitchy rhythms and an introspective, slightly depressive mood. This is not so strange considering Campeau regularly suffers from depression, but the album’s title already seems to signal a change in direction, which is reinforced by the slightly whimsical album cover. The story goes that in the period before writing this album, while experiencing another bout of depression, Campeau started posting pictures of himself on social media, sarcastically accompanying them with typical inspirational quotes like “live laugh love” or “everything is beautiful and you are everything”. After a while he started to notice that this practice actually improved his mood, and inspired by this change of heart Campeau decided to write a happy record as a kind of self-help method. The result is a positive sad bop record with folk and bluegrass instrumentation. Contrary to what one might expect, the lyrics do not entail the simple inspirational quotes that inspired Campeau to write this album, but he rather fleshed them out into eloquent phrasings that sometimes appear to float over the instrumentation (on songs such as “1983” and “Losing Friends”) and sometimes hide behind dense layers of guitar picking and falsetto vocals.

The music itself sounds new and fresh while remaining instantly recognisable for the listener. The intricate acoustic guitar picking instantly brings to mind bands such as Genesis, Yes or Punch Brothers, while the vocals and uplifting beats will speak to fans of Beck and even Radiohead. Old Dog, New Tricks is a progressive folk record that references the whole canon of pop music, from Simon and Garfunkel to Beck, and from Abba to the Beach Boys. This might be considered a happy version of what Steven Wilson was trying to achieve with his latest record To The Bone. However, don’t listen to this record if you’re a fan of Steven Wilson, because this record is actually the complete opposite of what you would want from a Steven Wilson record. Stuffed with complex inspirational quotes over even more complex indie folk music, Old Dog, New Tricks is an album that will speak to a diverse public of old and young listeners alike.

Words: Robert Westerveld
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