As godfathers of eccentric indie rock, Camper Van Beethoven always attracts a degree of curiosity even before the proverbial needle drops on their latest platter. Happily, the Campers never disappoint, and if anything, they’ve become even more ambitious, despite a career stretching well into its third decade.
It’s no surprise then to find the band exploring some sprawling environs, literally and figuratively. Their new album, El Caminoreal, provides a companion piece of sorts to their last effort, the widely praised La Costa Perdida, continuing a song cycle centered on their native California. While the previous album focused on the sunnier aspects of the state’s lore (think the Beach Boys and hippy happenstance), El Camino Real trudges through tougher terrain, from the tattered highways leading to “Camp Pendleton” and the gritty refrain of “Out Like a Lion,” to the stark contrast between domestic realities and country comfort spun through “Darken Your Door.”
Still, El Camino Real isn’t immersed entirely in darkness and despair. The irrepressible chorus of “It Was Like That When We Got Here” and the wink and nod afforded “The Ultimate Solution” offer a decidedly light respite. Despite its bumpy ride, El Camino Real is a picturesque travelogue regardless.