The Campbell Apartment’s ‘In A Long Time Ago’: Quirky ‘90s Indie Gems Revisited The Campbell Apartment
Label: Mint 400 Records
Reviewed by Sam Lowry

The Campbell Apartment, “In A Long Time Ago,” comprising catchy power pop songs recorded between 1993-1999 by Russian-American anglophile Ari Vais, known for his unique style, with influences from the ‘90s indie scene, featuring a range of moods and emotions in its quirky tracks.

On Friday, 11 August 2023, Mint 400 Records will release the 6th record by The Campbell Apartment, “In A Long Time Ago”.  The Campbell Apartment is the vehicle of Russian-American anglophile Ari Vais, who has been writing and releasing original songs since the late 1980s.  This LP is comprised of songs recorded between 1993-1999.

Though Ari Vais songs have been called “Pavementy” (Joe Levy, Rolling Stone) and described as having a ‘90’s sound, these songs are actually from the ‘90s, the first one of which was written in the 1980s.  They withstand the test of time, however, because Vais has always written in his unique, quirky style of short, hyper-catchy and twisted songs and continues to do so to this day.  They were originally recorded in Western Massachusetts with Ari Vais’s post college group Humbert, and are beloved by artists such as Chris Collingwood from Fountains Of Wayne (who produced the final track “Rosie”).

“Pop” ironically references the awful rap-metal genre of bands like Rage Against The Machine with its heavy opening, before the stops and starts that make up its core, and the lovely coda “and it was awful pretty, and it was pretty awful”.  “My Siamese Twin” feels like Pixies meets Nirvana, and is lyrically both shocking and funny.  With its range of moods and emotions, the playful “Mysterina” and “I’m Fallin 4 U”, mixed with heartbreaking “The Freezer” and breakup samba “Kiss Goodbye” makes for something of a novel with lots of whipsaw twists and emotional turns. 

Ghostly and stark “drown” and “Time Sweats” leave the listener discombobulated and slightly hypnotized, while “Beautiful Lesbian” is a stylistic departure from Ari Vais’s indie rock brand (the term was not in the public lexicon when these were recorded in the early 1990s) with it’s funny, self-deprecating lyrics and lounge-lizard arrangment shows off the many ingredients and facets that go into Ari Vais songs.

“1992” has a timeless, melodic guitar hook and a recording of a Greyhound bus announcement of a departure from UMass to New York City to open the track and set up the powerful punch of what’s to come.  It was written at the end of 1992, a particularly tough year for the artist, when his first love left to return to her home in Oxford, UK, leaving him lost and defeated.  It is very dark, but very pretty.

“Alkie” and “Crabcakes”, the latter of which cops the melody from The Godfather for its outro, both a punk and a wiseass move, reflect the loose and funny/belligerent pathos of The Replacements, with “Alkie” taking the piss of the artist’s prodigious drinking at the time.  There’s Lou Barlow’s sister Abby making a cameo appearance on cello, timpani drums inspired by The Breeders, and sexy saxophone blasting or crooning, depending on the song.

Like all Ari Vais songs, this collection from 30 years ago is full of surprises, never repeating itself, nor any songs that precede it.  Love it or hate it, this indie pop rock is truly original. Today Rebel Noise is proud to premiere "My Siamese Twin" from the album 'In A Long Time Ago' by The Campbell Apartment. 

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