The Peaks and Valley’s of Pittsburgh’s Action Camp

Action Camp - Dark Electro Pop, Because I spend most of my day at a computer, I spend a lot of time wondering what to listen to next. Despite the infinite world of Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and my own library, I still get stuck in ruts of listening to the same stuff over and over. Thus, when I get wind of something new coming along, it’s an absolute delight to take some time with fresh sounds. This last week, that new thing was Pittsburgh’s dark electro-pop duo, Action Camp‘s forthcoming LP, PA.
While that last sentence may have read like a bad business presentation with too many acronyms, it’s because the LP is simply titled and written about their home state. As Ivan, a long-time Pennsylvania native, will tell you, it’s a gorgeous but occasionally depressing state, and the tone and subject matter of the LP reflects that perfectly. With songs about various infamous disasters such as the Centralia Mine Fire and the Johnstown Flood, and recurring themes about earth and industry, it’s a delightfully dark experience.

Throughout the 10-track LP, there is a constant ebb of sharp contrasts, which the opening track, “You Don’t Even Know My Name” perfectly demonstrates. A subdued opening minute highlighted by Maura Jacob’s intimate vocals and Bengt Alexandar’s vintage-sounding baritone guitar instantly give way to an enormous wall of synthesizers at the song’s first chorus. It’s a great musical moment, one of many on the LP.
The LP showcases a variety of sounds and talents, with some songs relying on natural drums and clean guitar riffs, while others build huge soundscapes out of programmed beats and synths. The best example of this dichotomy are two particularly strong tracks in the middle of the LP, “Hunger” and “Turn of the Blade”. “Hunger” begins with layers of vocals with saturated cave reverb, and the track then grows with an intense synth drum backing and dark vocal melody, eventually ending with a guitar feature topped by falsetto vocals. This other-worldy tune is followed by “Turn of the Blade”, which is all out rock in between muted, choppy, guitar riffs with live drums.
Another fascinating pairing on the album is the incredibly industrial “Prayer of Smoke” and the simplest, but arguably strongest, track on the LP, “No Time (Third Shift Lullaby)” whose harp-like chords and solo vocal line sound like a Hawaiian traditional written with the grit and determination that cold winters, thankless and dangerous work, and a storied home state produce. With such a connection to every day life and history, it’s fascinating to think that this LP, despite it’s liberal use of synths, FX, and production, is essentially folk music. With highs and lows as deep as the coal mines of PA, it’s an intriguing and promising effort from this talented duo.