Enter Camlann – review by Victoria Spungen

The most invaluable attribute of an increasingly global community is the discovery of our shared – and often, surprisingly unified – experience of the world.  Even as we languish through the isolation imposed on us via a global crisis, we can reach across vast expanses, foreign borders, and cultural divisions to find that, ultimately, we have more to connect us than we have to separate us.

Hence, the uniquely relatable Indonesian three-piece, Camlann, and their 2020 studio album, the aptly titled The Forgotten Lost Fragments. Listeners will find themselves immediately transported to the soundscapes of their misspent youths, with authentic, vintage-feeling grooves that harken back to the New Romantic golden age of the genre.  The songs feel familiar and oddly comforting, yet spiked with a dose of the unexpected, an added ingredient that lifts the recipe.  

https://camlannmusic.bandcamp.com/album/the-forgotten-lost-fragments

Namely, the most novel feature of Camlann’s sound is vocalist Ony Godfrey’s haunting tone.  Often acting as a rhythm instrument, the vocals will then suddenly take flight and soar above the surrounding backdrop, calling to mind the heady, bright tone of crooners like Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright – but stripped of pretense and glamour, and flooded with simple, refreshing sincerity and a distinctly feminine nobility.  One feels less that they are merely listening to an artificially-cultivated performance, and more that they are sneaking a peek into a carefully-guarded diary.

Hummable tunes are augmented with classic, almost Santo and Johnny ‘Sleepwalk’-style guitar melodies – also Godfrey’s contributions, creating a dreamy lightness over the solid fabric of the drum-and-bass combo.  The arrangements are straightforward, but layered and colorful, employing unique effects and pleasantly disorienting quirks, provided by bassist Bayu Triyudanto and synth/keyboardist Fauzan Pratama.  

The 10-track album is a much-needed lesson in brevity; Camlann has a knack for knowing what they want to say, and being cleverly succinct in their approach.  There is no wallowing or luxuriating in the mire here; the songs are considerably brief, most of them having gotten their point across in less than four minutes, with no need for further embroidery or gilding the lily.    The charming, palate-cleansing sorbet of ‘Il Prologo’ clocks in at just 45 seconds, but its impact is effectively made, and the album wouldn’t be the same without it.  

Standout tracks include the title track, which artfully drops the listener into Camlann’s world and sets the stage for an introspective, intimate drama.  ‘What’s The Worth Of Living’ employs a lilting, rolling guitar theme that brings Camlann’s genuinely skilled musicianship into sharp focus.   ‘Father Johannes’ sails in on the wings of a sweeping, cinematic theme to introduce the album’s eponymous central character, a mysterious figure whose headstone graces the memorable cover art.  ‘The Ballad of Us’ provides a subversive twist on the notion of a conventional love song, with Godfrey’s vocal prowess on full display, grounded by the staccato heartbeat of a string quartet.  ‘New City, New Hope’ positively shimmers with its many layers and sophisticated arrangements, peppered with an exuberant horn section that feels right at home among the album’s vintage-seeming accessories. 

Formed in early 2019 by a trio of Jakarta middle-school students, this often surprising outfit also includes their own producer, Chariszan, and a co-songwriter, Arachne – both of whom share the distinction of their bandmates of being under the age of 17.  Rare as it seems to encounter a young band with such a direct focus and clear intention, Camlann are proving that the upcoming generation has their own perspective, and plenty to say.  I had the fortune of speaking via email to vocalist/lyricist Ony Godfrey about the band’s history, inspiration, and point of view.

Sounds and Shadows: Your enigmatic name is both mysterious and memorable.  How did you arrive on ‘Camlann’?

Ony Godfrey:  Camlann’s name comes from the well-known Arthurian legend, specifically from King Arthur’s final battle, “The Battle of Camlann”. I and Chariszan thought that we wanted to find a name that is easy to remember by people, and has a connection with legend or myth, so we chose the name Camlann.

S&S:  How did you find one another?

Godfrey:  In early 2019, I started posting covers of my favorite songs from my favorite artists (mostly The Smiths and  Joy Division) on my old Instagram account.  Somehow, this attracts Chariszan’s attention, and she asked me if I wanted to make a Post-Punk/New Wave band with her.  So I said yes, and that’s how Camlann was born.  It was never really taken seriously by Chariszan and I, before I graduated from middle school and moved to a public school in Jakarta, and met these two boys who later will be my closest best friends.

Around September 2019, my classmate, which is Fauzan, asked me if he could join the band as the synth player and composer.  He told me that he’s a massive 80s New Wave/synthpop enthusiast and wanted to play in an 80s synth-dominated band.  So I said yes, because we have the same interest in music and because he’s a very gifted synth player and composer.  After that, Fauzan asked his friend, which is Bayu, if he wanted to join the band to play bass.  So there you go, that’s how it all started.

S&S:  What inspires you, and your sound?

Godfrey: I got inspired by a lot of things, but mostly by some real events that [are] happening in my life and some important events that happened in this world in general.  I got influenced a lot by Morrissey’s songwriting since the very beginning of Camlann until this day.  It’s funny to see that some people thought that these dark, depressing, and melancholic lyrics are based on my life, when in fact it’s all fictional and based on my imaginations.  Well, most of them are inspired by some real events in my life, but I twisted those actual, real events into something fictional and mostly dramatic.  I took these realities as a ‘host’ for these lyrics, and [I] twist these events into something fictional, dramatic, and definitely not personal.  I love using real events in my life as a ‘host’ for these melancholic and gloomy lyrics, haha!

S&S:  What turns you on, and puts you in your creative mindset?

Godfrey:  I really love to add some religious and historical elements in my music.  I was born from a non-religious family; my parents are Protestant, but not religious at all.  But then one day, a life-changing experience happened in my life.  I felt the presence of God, and I started to buy a bible from a local bookstore near my house and learn Catholicism all by myself.  A year later, I got baptized as a Catholic and I’ve never been happier in my life.  Since then, I’ve decided to include some Catholic references in my lyrics.

All of us are massive lovers of the 80s, especially Fauzan.  So then we decided to create our own universe for our music, where in that universe, we’re living in the early 1980s.  That’s also the main reason we take a lot of influences from 80s popular culture and sounds for our music.  Fauzan’s presence and contribution in this band is very, very influential and basically, without him, Camlann would never have this current sound.  So we owe him A LOT, and I feel like he’s very, very underappreciated when in fact, he’s the main composer of this band.

S&S:  What turns you off, and how do you reinspire yourselves?

Godfrey:  The struggle of mixing our influences into our music would be the main reason.  I got influenced mostly by The Velvet Underground, The Smiths, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Emma Ruth Rundle, Russya, and Xmal Deutschland.  Fauzan was influenced mainly by Alphaphile, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Suicide, Donna Summer, and Molchat Doma.  Meanwhile, Bayu was influenced mostly by The Cranberries, Hole, The Doors, and Joy Division.  Sometimes, we struggle on mixing these various influences to Camlann’s typical sound, and it took us almost a year to find our own sound.

We usually reinspire ourselves by brainstorming our different influences together and sharing new music that we have just discovered lately, and then starting on gathering these new ideas into one unity.  You will definitely hear this new sound of Camlann in our upcoming album, ‘Circa 1983’; this album is a fresh start of Camlann’s sound and image as a band.  We will definitely go in this direction from now on – a ‘Dark Disco’ band, a mixture between classic disco and 80s synthpop/New Wave sounds with modern Darkwave sounds.

S&S:  What would your listeners be surprised to learn about you?

Godfrey:  We’re definitely just some random high school students with their own life interests and their own dreams.  We are definitely not ‘dark’ or ‘gloomy’ when we’re not being these images we play in Camlann.  We just happened to play in a dark disco band – that’s why we look gloomy and dark in our band pictures, haha!

Also, I’ve heard many people think that I have a deep voice.  But actually, my talking voice is quite high-pitched.  That’s why my father got really shocked when he heard me singing for the first time!

* * *

It may seem counterintuitive to imagine steel-gray, 1983 Sheffield skies scattered over wet cobblestones when one is listening to an Indonesian synthpop trio, but it is exactly Camlann’s relatability and reverence for their influences that makes the music feel mature and expertly crafted.    There is common ground to be found here, freshly updated and uniquely flavored with subtlety and precision.  Encapsulating a wide spectrum of genres and techniques, Camlann are proving themselves to be one to watch as they continue to develop their sound.  The Forgotten Lost Fragments feels like poring through the memory box of an intriguing stranger, where one finds  treasures that reach across time and borders to become cherished once again.

It’s a small world, after all.

– Victoria Spungen