Espiral (Miguel Campal) – Uruguayan Independent Artist

Miguel Campal Playing Live.

Miguel Campal Playing Live.

Do you remember the post I published last month in which I announced that both Grubb and Miguel Campal had released their respective debut albums? Admit it, you do – it was the closest you came to an epiphany when reading a piece of music-related news ever since you learnt Paul was not dead.

Well, maybe not. But the bit in which I insulted Five For Fighting was fun.

Anyway, that eventful day I promised Miguel I would cover his album on MusicKO. And since I forgot to cross my fingers, now I find myself floating over a strange land, with a sequined showbiz moon keeping me company as I do the hard drive equivalent of spinning his record.

Leaving aside allusions to other artists, arbitrary jokes that only three people would get and quotations from “Chalkhills & Children” (which even less people would understand, notwithstanding I supplied the name of the song and linked to the album it was on), I must say that forgetting to cross my fingers when talking to Miguel was actually a very good thing.

I became acquainted with a really, really fine album in the shape of “Espiral” [Spiral] – an album which is a worthy addition to the imaginary of works detailing how resolution is circumstanced by emotional frailness (try Lucas Meyer’s “Un Accidente Feliz”, and Laura Chinelli’s “Historias de Invierno” for good related listens). An album where the singer manages to turn dejection around, and make it become the kind of beauty that only experience can name between smiles. An album that is “dark, yet glowingly alive”, to rip off some bloke that wrote the preface to a book by Joseph Conrad I once bought in a moment of madness.

Miguel released “Espiral” two months ago, in an online-only edition. And since Miguel adheres to Bob Dylan’s dictum for living (IE, “money don’t talk, it swears”) he decided to make it a free download.

Espiral Miguel Campal
“Espiral” is a pop/rock album in the most vivid sense of the word. Musically, it connotes the work of tunesmiths like Paul McCartney and Noel Gallagher, with a clear debt being paid to the production techniques used in works by either. And the vocal melodies in particular remind me a lot of Blur at its finest.

The lyrics themselves are good in relation to the music, IE neither distracts from each other, and their concomitance is dexterous (the processed ballad “Michi” and the spacious “Deseos” [Wishes] are very organic examples). Yet, they are functional in terms of form.

You see, there are not that many striking passages from a rhetorical point of view. I know, I know, asking pop albums for such a thing sounds ludicrous, like daring somebody not to wince when listening to Rebecca Black. But my point is that an introspective work such as this one would have merited a little more lyrical muscle. That’s just the way I feel. Yet, I‘m the first to reckon that the “content vs. form” debate is as long as the beards donned by ZZ Top, and about as interesting as watching the contemporary remake of “V”.

Where there is a patently successful equalization of form with content, though, is in the way the title of the album forebodes its theme of songs that move a lot over territory that is very, very adjacent and that imply an increasing narrowness. And that feeling strikes you even as the first track is playing, when your experience has not yet been contextualized by the music (the cover of the album sets the scene, though).

That song is the (reasonably upbeat) “Sube” [Go Up]. It begins with the lines “Sé que me queda mucho tiempo para oír si es la verdad/O si es que alguien te hizo mal” [I know I’ve got a lot of time for listening whether it’s true/that someone did you wrong]. The remaining nine songs on the album try to get to that truth. And a long. long walk ensues, with multiple detours left, right, up, and (specially) down. Songs like “Me Gustás” [I Like You] and “Otra Cosa” [Another Thing] deal with self-doubt in terms that make it hard for anybody to see a coming to terms with the true nature of feelings.

Yet, something of an answer is descried for the first time as the album is running its course, and the song “Te Espero” [I Wait For You] comes along with its electronic, almost danceable foundations and marauding lyrics that say in little more than two minutes what Miguel seemed intent on not letting out explicitly before. It’s as if when nearing the middle of the spiral everything became too close and proximate to hold on any longer, to remain constrained.

The penultimate cut has him flicking the meditative switch on again for a while with the bare-bones “Tan Rápido” [So Fast], and the album ends with “No Me Mires” [Don’t Look At Me], in which all the possible denotations of love are examined. Miguel sings of falling down, yet falling down in the eye of this particular spiral seems like ending up stuck on the eye of a vertiginous hurricane. Everything becomes way too obvious for him then: “No me mires, no me toques más/No me odies, que vos sos igual” [Don’t look at me, don’t touch me any more/Don’t hate me, you’re the same as me].

And the end of the album is inescapable: “Me preguntas qué pasó/La puerta está cerrada” [You ask me what has happened/The door is shut]. What happens is clear to us, the onlookers: one person’s answer has become the other person’s question.

That is the truth that lies at the center of this album, how a person’s loss can turn out to be another person’s biggest emotional gain. And it is a truth that could only be figured out after having circled so much around something that was blatantly obvious. But that is life for you and me – way too often, the most visible things are the ones whose lineaments we have more trouble discerning. Only when we stand within millimeters can we see what we were meant to see all along. So, as far as establishing a theme and developing it goes, “Espiral” passes the test with flying colors.

This conceptual constitution is the most fulfilling aspect of the album to me. As I said when analyzing “Historias De Invierno”, thematic unity is always pivotal to the enjoyment of artistic works, and when it is achieved in the first piece conjured by an artist then that work is all the more commendable. And all the more easy to relate to, of course. So “Espiral” turned to be a really solid and rewarding listening experience that (in my case) arose from an almost fortuitous meeting.

It’s just like they used to say on the promotional posters for the second season of Lost: “Everything Happens For A Reason”. Or was it the promotional posters for the third season? You know, the one in which the show started going apeshit? I just can’t remember, the day I start a blog for reviewing all these TV shows I have blissfully watched (and use it to talk about music instead) I might get to the bottom of that.

In the meantime, I’m spiraling… I invite you to do the same.

Left to right: Sanosuke Sagara, Kenshin Himura, Kaoru Kamiya and the book by Joseph Conrad I “borrowed” the phrase “dark, but glowingly alive” from. It’s the one standing on the left to “Written In My Soul”. What, did you think I was making that delectable part of the review up? Tsk.

Left to right: Sanosuke Sagara, Kenshin Himura, Kaoru Kamiya and the book by Joseph Conrad I “borrowed” the phrase “dark, but glowingly alive” from. It’s the one standing on the left to “Written In My Soul”. What, did you think I was making that delectable part of the review up? Tsk.