Album Review by Mia Call, photos by Addie Briggs.
If this Bay Area winter has taught us anything, it’s that when it rains, it pours. Luckily, on December 8th, Berkeley-based indie artist Chammeili released the perfect soundtrack for an overcast East Bay Sunday. Icy Blue distills the hushed, cool quality of singer Kaamya Sharma’s voice with reserved acoustics and unsettling lyrics. Released on El-Cerrito based label Lavasocks, Chammeili’s debut takes a quieter, more haunting approach to youth than any of the band’s previous songs.
Over soft fingerpicking and melancholic synths, on the chilling track “Twenty Three,” Sharma sings “you will be twenty three / For sixteen more years.” The way she sings it, it sounds more threatening than reassuring. While Sharma’s soft, flutey voice and the tight, yet laid back synth and guitar sounds on this album (courtesy of Andres Tepedelenlioglu Soult) are reminiscent of Soccer Mommy’s debut For Young Hearts, the lyrics play at something more sinister. Wheraws on previous songs, like the addictive “Dirty laundry,” Chammeili explored the messiness of not having everything figured out, this new album, in songs like “Hush Now”, the singer-songwriter seems to have grown into understanding herself now: now she sings “I can feel you in my bones.” A sense of intuition and new understanding has Chammeili taking action in a broken world. Youth doesn’t seem messy, or confusing. It doesn’t seem joyful either. Instead, the songs develop a twin sense of the quiet care and reassurance of growing older and the impending sense of doom that comes with understanding the world better. Over grooving bass and echoing guitars, she commands us to “take cover.” Sharma’s world might seem twisted and cold, but now she’s in charge.
Musically, Ice Blue has just enough edge to keep you wanting more. With funky time switches and driving rhythms from drummer Connor Finn, and comforting classic indie bass lines from Gabriel Gianmarco and Clem Zimmer, each song keeps the consistent balance between familiar and strange while allowing Sharma’s vocals to shine. A favorite touch of mine is the almost vaudevillian, jaunty yet resonant piano that closes out the album (laid by Andres Tepedelenlioglu Soult, who also provides the eerie synth touches), which brings the album to close in a comforting, timeless way, after Sharma reassures us “She was what you were / but you never knew / you were underneath the dirt.” The final track, “Don’t You Remember,” is a familiar fusion of the indie sounds that Chameilli thrives on, while keeping the haunting lyrical quality of the world Chameilli has created through this album, one of bodies at the border, where you have to listen to the cards, and where birds wait on wires.
Chameilli’s lyrics evoke disturbing images, but Sharma’s soft voice makes them seem like reassurances, like the kind of promises we make in the face of the unknown, and her relationships seem tied up in both the ghosts of the past and a safer future. Lyrically, it reminds of Cat Power’s Moon Pix, both nightmarish and ethereal, evoking both impending doom and comfort in the crush. On the penultimate track, “Aao Na,” Sharma sings entirely in Hindi, about disappearing love and a fake spring, yet through the sparse, dreamlike quality of the track, I didn’t need to translate the lyrics to know she was singing about memory and change and loss — on this album Chameilli’s world transcends lyrics. Every crystal clear note has the same haunting quality as lines like “And if at all you see a ghost / it’s yours.”
As far as a debut LP goes, Chammeili brings the best of both worlds: just enough quirks to make it memorable, just enough pop to make it catchy. While the lyrics are sometimes so vague they borderline on cliche (even the title of the album is a a little too obvious), and the reliance on quiet fingerpicking might get old on tracks like “Bird on a Wire,” Icy Blue creates a world of melancholic youth, forgotten memory, and lost time, perfect for winter introspection. It’s a world both warm and cold, comforting and foreign, uncertain and confident. If Chameilli wishes to sound like a thunderstorm, as Sharma sings in the title track, they will also bring you a place to keep you somewhere safe and warm.
Favorite Tracks: Hush Now, Twenty Three, Don’t You Remember