NEW YORK PRESS (October 8, 2001) "Live Dates"


STOMP AND STAMMER (Atlanta), October 2001

MAGNET (Sep/Oct 2001)

PULSE! Tower Records' Music Monthly September 2001 (****)





NEW YORK PRESS, February 3-9, 1999






New York Press (October 8, 2001) "Live Dates: Champale, Brownies (July 26)" Okay, let me get a few things out of the way before we start. First, I donít like going to see live music, especially by myself. I always end up standing off to one side, self-conscious, drinking too much beer. Second, Iím a lightweight. During Champaleís set I had three Rheingolds and thereafter found it hard to walk straight. Third, Iím shy when Iím sober and even more timid when drunk, so I didnít have the courage to talk to the band after their performance. Thus I have no behind-the-scenes insights to offer, and the details may be wrong. But generally, I think I got the gist of it.

The last time I was at Brownies was at least a year ago, to see Clem Snide play. And howís that for synchronicity, because Clem Snide cellist Jason Glasser also plays with Champale, and several members of Champale play on Snideís "The Ghost of Fashion." In fact, the last time I saw Champale it was at Mercury Lounge for the Snide record release party. There was lots of incestuous band-swapping going on that night (made even more complicated by the presence of Bostonís Pee Wee Fist, whose leader, Pete Fitzpatrick, is now a semi-official member of Snide). I like that. It makes me feel like Iíve stumbled onto a scene.

As usual at Brownies, the crowd up front paid attention, while the people at the bar chatted about the music business and ignored the music. I arrived early, somehow found a seat in back and noticed a woman with short blonde hair sitting up front with her friends. When Champale took the stage I realized this was the bandís vibraphonist Erin Elstner. She had donned a blonde wigñblonde on blondeñthe same 60s-cut bob she always wears onstage. Itís a wonderful bit of theater. I canít take my eyes off herñnot because sheís cute (though she is), but because her wig evokes an entire encyclopedia of pop culture references: swinginí London dolly-birds, a drag-queen dominatrix, the cover of "Some Girls." Elstnerís look is Champaleís one concession to kitsch (aside from the name), and it makes a pleasing contrast with the bandís musicñwhich takes its pop pleasure very seriously indeed. Ah yes, the music. Champale reminds me a little of Cardinal, the Webb Brothers, even Matthew Sweet (when heís not trying to recreate "Revolver"). Buoyed by saxophone, trumpet and vibes, which take up most of the space that other bands reserve for guitar solos, Champale remains anchored in a 70s FM radio sensibility, blessedly free of indie-rock irony and alterna-rock ponderousness. Lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Rozzo is a wounded romantic, with the Chilton-esque habit of switching from a sweet tenor to an earnest falsetto whenever his yearning overwhelms him. Early in the set they play "See You Around," a Big Star-ish kiss-off propelled by Elstnerís vibes that reaches for transcendenceñswelling horns, repeated chorusñbefore cooling off in a sly jazz coda. The rest of the set passed in a blur for me (Rheingolds, etc.), but I remember enjoying the bandís excursions into power-pop, soul balladry and country rock (this last abetted by a lap-steel player, who was sitting in for regular cellist Jason Glasser). Toward the end of the set they played a cover of "Sentimental Lady" so assured I figured it was an original (a friend later reminded me that Bob Welch wrote it 30 years ago). At this point, I realized that no one at the bar was talking. Champaleís smirkless popñand that wigñhad left them speechless. --Jonathan Moskowitz

Pop Matters It's always nice to hear good music. That's a goofy statement, but to a music addict like myself, it holds truer than most other statements. It's even nicer to hear good music when you have to listen to a lot of average to poor music as a rock critic does. Those of you who are only on the listening side of the fence have no idea how many things get released that would have just been better off left in some shoebox somewhere. So it pleases me to be able to bring to you two new releases that I think everyone should add to their collection.

[...]On the full-length album side of the spectrum is Champale and their impeccable Simple Days disc. These guys have gotten press from both The New Yorker and the New York Press as well as CMJ Online. Not bad for an underdog. I specifically requested this disc because the group is on the Pitch-a-Tent label, once home to the great Camper Van Beethoven. I figured that Champale should at least be half as good. Well, frankly they're excellent.

The band features a whopping eight members, including Luna drummer Lee Wall, ex-44 member Mark Rozzo, Pizzicato Five tour member Erin Elstner on vibes, and second drummer Ira Elliot from Nada Surf. What the band creates here is nothing short of visionary, with Rozzo's songs creating a warm blanket of musical tranquility and rock refinery. This tastiness is probably best displayed on the album's second track "Motel California" which features superb melodicism and astute band interplay.

Other highlights include "Hard to Be Easy", "Paducah", the surreal "Black Telephone", and the perfect "'68 Comeback." On these tunes, Champale produces sounds that are seemingly West Coast one moment, then decidedly East Coast the next making for one lovely mix that never fails to miss its mark. They're not above experimenting either, as their sound veers from catchy pop to more avant garde terrain all within a matter of a few measures. But this isn't the kind of boring weirdness that bands like Beans employ. Instead, it is a beautiful sound that captures the essence of a long summer's day as the sun slides down the sky to meet the horizon. Laid back and effortless, Champale and Simple Days are simply stunning.

So there you go. Two discs that you should rush out and buy right now. Take it from me, the guy who always warns you about some of the flimsiest rock and pop out there today. This is the good stuff through and through. And if you don't take my word for it, take it from the fans and critics who also already know how great these two groups are. It doesn't hurt to get a second opinion, but in these instances I believe I'm quite right. Of course, I also walked through Bedford Stuy alone and drove my motorcycle in the rain. But that's another story. --Jason Thompson

STOMP AND STAMMER (Atlanta), October 2001 The concept of fusion, whether applied to cuisine or musical endeavor, is often an iffy proposition (just watch the Food Network sometime, or listen to some rap/rock). In a few happy instances, though, throwing everything into the pot yields surprising results. Such is the case with Simple Days, the first release from Brooklyn-based Champale, a collection from which country, lounge, psychedelia and OE70s soft rock, among other genres, can all find elements to claim as their own.

Onstage, Champale comes across as an urban hipster Earth, Wind and Fire, or the cool kids you wish had played at your prom. Their recordings reveal a similar team-effort approach and a willingness to experiment. The assured eclecticism which results allows for easy transitions in mood, from the swirling hangover lament of "Hard to Be Easy" to the rollicking pop of "Special Guest Star," and the mournful country vibe of "Paducah." (Only the straight-ahead rocker "Like I Do" interrupts the flow like an unwelcome party guest.) Frontman Mark Rozzo's yearning falsetto fills each of these tunes with the right measure of pathos, wonder and despair, and his bandmates gleefully hit all the musical buttons at their disposal, embellishing a traditional rock lineup with trumpet, saxophone and cello. Of particular note is Erin Elstner's twinkling work on the vibraphone, which turns "Motel California" into a warm sunshine bath and sprinkles fairy dust wherever it appears.

Angels rather than fairies are one of Rozzo's lyrical conceits. Cut loose from Heaven, they fit in nicely with the cast of late night radio callers which populates many of his songs: fallen heroes, TV idols and departed lovers emerging from the dimly lit past. Funny, then, that two of the most memorable tunes on the record are notable for their human absence, whether physical or mental: „Black Telephone,¾ a hazy-sad Edward Hopper painting of a song, and the dream-sequence reverie „Dramamine,¾ a woozy number best enjoyed while rain pummels your windshield. Once the storm has cleared, rub your eyes and contentedly survey Champale¼s world. Eavesdrop if you will on the Tiki-lounge hero of the album¼s closer, „Holiday Inn,¾ who declares, „We could live/happy in the cut-out bin.¾ Then give him some advice: with such a strong debut, it seems wiser that the band and its creations raise their expectations. --Amanda Langston

Magnet (Sep/Oct 2001) A more sincere Belle and Sebastian. The uptown-bound son of Gram Parsons and Van Morrison (if that were possible). Alex Chilton fronting the Modern Jazz Quartet. All of these prospects and more would provide shortcuts to describing New York's Champale. But then again, so would adjectives like "icy," "cool," "gorgeous" and even "available." These were the descriptors decided upon by my international English students, for whom I played "'68 Comeback," a song from the band's debut. Swelling from the original 1998-founded trio, this seven-piece band of hushed percussives, cello, violin, alto sax, trumpet, bass and drums assembles itself around singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Rozzo to scrub away a few mineral deposits from the weighted porcelain of Americana. The album's final track, "Holiday Inn," with its seductive bossanova suggestions and sleepy-eyed mariachi horns, is a good example of just how overt Champale isn't. "Black Telephone," with Rozzo's voice sounding like a subdued Dean Wareham, could share adult-contemporary radio space with Jim O'Rourke's Eureka or Lampchop's Nixon. Yet, unlike both, Champale incorporates orchestrated-pop lushness to camouflage a lack of easy identity.

PULSE! Tower Records' Music Monthly September 2001 (****)When one thinks of a seven-piece band, it¼s generally one with sonic heft and wallop. Well, New York City-based Champale utilizes that number but with subtle grandeur. Rather than going for volume, it goes for finely woven, dense and resonant texturing. Which is not to say that it's sleepwalking; Champale can also rock with dynamic flair (as on "Special Guest Star," which has a lineage traceable through 35 years of post-Beatles pop, and "Like I Do," with its nod toward the hopped-up side of Alex Chilton). Frontman Mark Rozzo pens songs that welcome the moody filigree of trumpet, cello, violin and vibes over a core rhythmic base, which is rooted in the foundation grooves of classic blue-eyed soul. That the band manages to do this without a hint of nostalgia is a testament to its smarts, skills and bright prospects for creating enduring music. --David Greenberger

SEATTLE WEEKLY The roster of Brooklyn's Champale reads like a who's who of New York's brightest indie-rock and country-flavored pop bands: Luna's Lee Wall, former 44 songwriter Mark Rozzo, Clem Snide's Jason Glasser, and Ira Elliot from Nada Surf are just a few of the ensemble castmates on the group's lustrous debut album. From the sweet, meandering slide guitar that kicks off opener "Hard to Be Easy" (which has a melody that could easily be a sequel to Big Star's yearning ballad "Daisy Glaze," as sung by Joe Pernice), to the lulling string-and-horn romps driving "Black Telephone" and "Holiday Inn," Simple Days is much more than a crew of musician types killing time between small club gigs. Each song is carefully textured with cool, crisp shots of vibes, dizzying downtown jazz percussion, and the engaging harmonies of singer Rozzo, who sounds especially sweet on the jaunty "See You Around." Thoughtful fans of Teenage Fanclub and Lambchop will adore "Special Guest Star" and "Dramamine." Thankfully, Champale's sounds have nothing in common with its hangover-inducing, ghetto fab namesake, except in one respect: The rich "team player" efforts on Simple Days are as welcome as a gulp of that ice-cold malt liquor on a steamy summer day. Just this once, feel free to indulge in Champale. --Kristy Martin

CMJ New Music Report It's hard to believe that Champale is a seven-piece band. There's nothing dense, overwhelming or aggressive about their music; in fact, delicate is the word that comes to mind. Mark Rozzo's vocals define "croon"- with the airiness of Thom Yorke and the sugary naivete of "Tiger Lily"-era Dean Wareham, his voice flies kite-style over rolling hills of vibes, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums. If the lyrics are simplistic, it's to make room for the subtle pop hooks and gentle tempo changes, which expound upon the chord systems laid down best by Big Star. The slow to mid-tempo numbers are smoothed over with trumpet and legato guitar licks, and stream lithely from one to the next without fanfare or big change-ups. (Fuzz-laden modern-rock nuggets such as "Like I Do" are the anomaly.) But whether working with something rollicking ("Change Your Life") or somnambulistic (album opener "Hard To Be Easy"), Rozzo and co. imbue their songs with laid-back Lite FM manners for a sweet, summery cocktail much more sophisticated than their malt namesake. -- Dylan Siegler

ELLE MAGAZINE, August 2001 BEST OF THE MONTH Champale may have named themselves after cheap liquor, but this indie-rock supergroup (members hail from Luna and Pizzicato Five) plays music of a most respectable vintage. On their smoky, soulful debut, Simple Days, Champale maintains a louche mystique while making perfect retro pop for modern people. --Matt Diehl

INSIDERONE.NET, May 8, 2001 Champale's "Hard to Be Easy" is like sitting in a lounge chair in the sun, like lying on your back in the warm water of pool at some resort far, far away from your troubles. The disconnect is that singer/songwriter Mark Rozzo is singing "Never thought it could be so hard to be easy" and " You had your chance/ It ain't coming back again." But when he sings, "Just relax/ And this won't hurt," the music suddenly makes you feel like you're in a plane flying over land, and suddenly you pass over a cliff and the earth falls away and it's just dark, dark blue sea below.

The reference points are Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Elliott Smith. When you hear "Motel California" you'll be stunned that music like this is still being made by someone, somewhere, let alone in Hoboken, N.J. It makes sense that Champale's album is called Simple Days and is on Athens, Georgia's Pitch-a-Tent Records. It makes sense that a label based in R.E.M.'s birthplace would put out music this magical and transcendent.

There's this beautiful, almost alt-country track, "Paducah", only it's alt-country as sung by Elliott Smith, with an arrangement by way of, oh, maybe Neutral Milk Hotel. And then "Special Guest Star" twinkles and shines like some glorious lost power-pop gem. Rozzo sings, "She's the cause and she's the cure," a line that will resonate with anyone who has known real love. And you'll just float away when you hear "Change Your Life"; that is, until you focus on the lyrics: "Change your life/ 'Cause this one's killing you/ Change your life/ It's what you've gotta do/ Before you go down one last time/ Before you wear that Kool-Aid smile/ Say you will/ Find a better way/ Say you will/ Get some therapy." --Michael Goldberg

NEW YORK PRESS, February 3-9, 1999 CHAMPALE, Mercury Lounge It's easy to see why some of the coolest musicians in New York have hooked up with Mark Rozzo in his current edition of Champale: This guy is writing and performing some of the best-crafted and most interesting new tunes in town.

Rozzo has moved on from the power-pop approach of his previous band 44 into something a little more flexible, a little mellower, and -- to my ears-- a lot groovier. Champale began life this past summer as a basic guitar-bass-and-drums trio with some contemplative solo excursions, but this Merc gig was the first for the band in full, expanded flower. There was a surprisingly big turnout for a miserable, sleety Thursday night, no doubt helped by the presence in the group of Luna drummer Lee Wall and Clem Snide cellist Jason Glasser. David Voigt played bass, Erin Elstner was on vibes, and David Knowles and Andrew Innes fleshed out the sound on trumpet and sax. For a new band, they were amazingly well integrated, a tribute to their musicianship and the inspiration offered by the raw material, the songs. Glasser's cello was the textural key, gently underpinning the quieter sections (as in "68 Comeback"), leading melodically on the more upbeat "Special Guest Star," and distorting grandly in the big loud freakout of "Model Airplanes."

But everybody in the ensemble contributes and shines. Wall and Voigt are an excellent, fluid rhythm section and the horns get their chances to wail. Elstner, who toured on vibes with the Pizzicato Five, stepped out toward the end of the nine-song set with some precise, syncopated leads.

Rozzo, who wrote all the songs, takes charge of the vocals and plays mostly rhythm guitar, although he did venture a feisty, finger-picking lead on "Motel California," followed by a somewhat sheepish shrug of the shoulders. His singing was a little tentative at first but he was soon confidently attacking even the most challenging falsetto parts of his compositions.

Champale's leader has been known to pen the occasional literary review. My advice? Stop reading books. They're full of stuff like exposition and foreshadowing and philosophy, and only serve to distract one from the smoky truth of the beat. That said, Rozzo's songs are kind of novelistic -- from a musical standpoint, that is. There's a movement, a sweep to them,. They don't march in place but evolve, frequently ending up in a different zone than the one they took off from. "Hard to Be Easy," for instance, begins spacily but coalesces into a downward, three-tiered, hard-rock progression reminiscent of "Crimson and Clover." As a psychedelic starting point, you could do worse than Tommy James and the Shondells. --Ken Marks

SPLENDID E-ZINE "Hard to Be Easy", the stunning first taste of these Simple Days, is beautifully sung, played and produced. While Mark Rozzo's songwriting works the same deceptively simple chords that Stamey and Holsapple have strummed blessedly through our lives, his singing is a notch above them -- more on a par with Norman Blake. Because "Hard to Be Easy" still earns the repeat button on its tenth play, Rozzo's smooth and easy voice could make it the ubiquitous number one hit you never wind up hating. And that's what its future deserves to be: the summer song you hum in tandem with friends, smart people and idiots alike.

Admittedly, a Number One hit for Champale is improbable, as their music -- like Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet -- seems reconciled to minor radio rotation at best. It's as if radio programmers listen to these singles, spinning with dangling hooks in the small, mighty world of classic pop, and doubt the beauty their ears hear. You may think they have balls for playing Elton John's pal Eminem, but ask yourself what contemporary record could be loved by every demographic? As there are no sitars or hip hop beats in "Hard to Be Easy", Champale must be doomed.

They're not doomed, though. Their songs are frequently graced with trumpets, alto saxophones and the glorious cello and violin work of Clem Snide's Jason Glasser. In my recent review of Clem Snide's The Ghost of Fashion, I mentioned that the band's previous album seemed too intentionally pretty. Hopefully today's DJs will get the same vibe from "Hard to Be Easy". They'll hear the violin -- so otherworldly it makes Glasser's hands sound like the outlet for all the emotion dead violinist Michael Rabin left off record -- and think it makes the pop too carbonated for kids, and that it adds too many bows to the top of the melody. And so the DJs will market the song to old folks, and Champale will follow the path of the drink after which they're named: something for Grandpa to hook the kids on.

I really hope that happens. And when it does, listeners will find in Champale the rare band with a number one hit that has so many worthy follow-ups behind it. "Motel California" is like a tribute to Teenage Fanclub, with a rolling wash of guitars, Beach Boys harmonies and simple but elegant lyrics, while ballads like "Paducah" soar from the same peaceful slumbers as Paul McCartney's lazy-day Ram, with melodic storms of violin, steel guitar and Byrdsy flights of fancy. A rare few songs on Simple Days aren't striking on first listen, but even those tracks are sung and played with such aplomb that you'll enjoy waiting out the sunny weather for the storm. -- Theodore Defosse

MUSICTODAY.COM Orchestral pop is a quasi-genre of music marked by the inclusion of a multitude of instruments, including brass and strings, which play specialized roles within a pop-structured song. The separation of tones and the key placement of different sounds create a full wash of aural ambience that is utterly cerebral. One can see the earliest foundation of this movement in easy listening and lounge-core records crafted by artists such as Esquivel and Quincy Jones. In fact, many regard the Beach Boys' ambitious Pet Sounds as the perfect example of modern mainstream orchestral pop. A handful of bands, such as ELO and Steely Dan in the '70s, and more recently, the Flaming Lips, Belle and Sebastian, and Lambchop, have attempted to recapture this spirit, often with impressive results.

With that in mind, welcome New York City's Champale. This present-day harbinger of the orchestral pop sound is less a band and more a collaborative effort centered on the excellent songwriting of Mark Rozzo and a slew of his New York pals. No less than 10 musicians lend a hand to the production of Simple Days. Notables include Luna drummer Lee Wall, Nada Surf percussionist Ira Elliot, Clem Snide's Jason Glasser, and Sparklehorse touring member, producer, and lap steel expert Alan Weatherhead, each of whom contribute to a well-developed project that touches on many disparate styles of music.

The record's opening track,"Hard to be Easy," demands to be heard on a surround sound system. Rozzo¼s winsome vocals guide the spooky song, while strings, horns, and well-timed lap steel twang drift through the undercurrent. The near a cappella intro to "See you Around" pays direct homage to Brian Wilson's art, while "Special Guest Star" rocks without rockingãthe type of song that will make your brain dance. The only potential misstep on Simple Days occurs in "Motel California," where the band directly but effectively pilfers riffs from Luna's "China Town."

With Simple Days, Champale has crafted a near perfect record that will appeal to fans of both intelligent rock and lounge music. This pseudo-band dabbles in indie rock, easy listening, alt-country, AM radio-styled classic rock, and sparkling orchestral pop. Most impressively, Champale appears to have mastered all of these styles with ease and is able to keep a high level fluidity throughout the album. The overwhelming variety presented by Mark Rozzo on Simple Days could come off as pretentious, but this talented song sculptor wants listeners to know that this isn't the "same old song" shtick. Simple Days is a meticulously plotted actualization of an artistic vision put to tape. Given time, Champale's music will reward the patient connoisseur. --Bret Booth

TIMEOUT NEW YORK Champale, one of the city's finest pop combos, pack their songs with the sort of casual hooks and sweet sounds that you just can't fake, you've either got it or you don't. And they do. Simple Days is packed with sweet sounds.

THE NEW YORKER [This] unusually flexible and inventive ensemble covers the territory from meditative spaciness to full-bore freakout. It's modern pop that's a bit retro, with just enough psychedelia thrown in to make you check your drink.

NUDEASTHENEWS.COM Champale is easy listening for a new generation. The Brooklyn combo makes music for relaxation, smooth pop you can either close your eyes and revel to, or throw on in the background at a friendly gathering. To say the group's debut, "Simple Days," is a tasty meeting of the studied pastoral pop of Teenage Fanclub and the backwoods orchestral arrangements of Lambchop is an approximation; Champale forges a distinctive sound out of these elements, and once you let the melodies sink in, the songs take on an elegance not easily given to comparison.

Just as the simplest day gains complexity and depth when reminisced upon, the songs on "Simple Days" grow out of modest frameworks and develop in their own deceptively subtle fashion into pop compositions of an almost Bacharachian polish. The glistening "'68 Comeback," for instance, starts in slowly over a quavering organ before introducing the unforgettable chorus "maybe simple days / have come and gone," highlighted by an uplifting horn section that remains for the rest of the tune.

Songs like "See You Around" take the opposite approach, starting with the verse-chorus progression and eventually dissolving into a patch of modality, where trumpets, guitars, and a vibraphone languidly dance around the chords. The group also shows an affinity for guitar rock on the uptempo "Change Your Life" and the more rusty opening to "Like I Do."

With solid songwriting, seasoned musicianship (the group features members of Luna, Clem Snide, and Nada Surf), and charismatic arrangements, Champale should appeal to pop fans of many varieties. --Troy Carpenter

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