Action Camp’s latest project PA finds the duo wading into heavy sonic terrain and coming back with a sound that’s entirely new. Inspired by famous man-made disasters in Pennsylvania’s history, the record blends the intimate experiences, both real and imagined, of the band members’ and of those living through a moment when time stood still. The result is an immersive experience in which the grandness of history is made tangible and personal again.
After members Maura Jacob and Bengt Alexsander relocated to Jacob’s hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, they were inspired to write material about their, at times conflicted, relationship with their new home city. The band’s vision expanded when they became fascinated by stories centered in and around Pennsylvania’s disasters, tales that are known well by many growing up in the Rust Belt. The duo had grown adept at merging the historical with the personal after completing two commissions. For the first installment of Pittsburgh’s Hi-Rez Artist Residency Program, they crafted a musical response to the works of Maxo Vanka found on display at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church. They also composed the single “Zero/One” for the project Conspiracy for Good, an online augmented reality game (ARG) created by Heroes show runner Tim Kring. Action Camp expanded upon their surf electro roots with deeper textures of low-tuned guitars, richer bass tones, and found sounds incorporated into drum loops and synths, all of which are still complemented by Jacob’s classically-trained vocals.
Ultimately, the songs on PA explore an array of subjects, from man’s relationship to industry and to the earth, to the way our work can come to define us, to the struggle to find a place to call home. Taking a page from Appalachian musical traditions, songs like “You Don’t Even Know My Name” are built around a single musical phrase, in this case the bass line, which acts as a continuous thread to bind the song together. The instrumentation on PA reflects Action Camp’s penchant to move easily between eerily gentle tones to the sweepingly ferocious, from the harsh samples and crunchy guitars on “Trainwreck” to the icy synths blended with warm vocals on “Come Clean.” The lyrical content is similarly varied, with perspectives as different as a religious zealot attempting to find meaning in the gradual deterioration of her home on “Hunger,” to the words of love and longing from the lips of the dying in “Thirst.” These elements produce hauntingly beautiful moments that still possess a pop sensibility. As Alexsander explains, “We’re fans of bittersweet music. We like a catchy pop melody, but we’re also hinting at something darker lying underneath.”