ALBUM REVIEW: Camille Bloom “Pieces of Me”

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photo by Gaelen Billingsley
photo by Gaelen Billingsley

It was the philosopher Aristotle who said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” While I’m not certain that Aristotelian philosophy was at the forefront of Camille Bloom’s mind while songwriting, I can’t help but consider it a subconscious theme to her fifth studio LP Pieces Of Me, which she self-released earlier this month.

Despite having started her career in Seattle nearly fifteen years ago while transitioning out of another – teaching high school English à la Sting – it seems that Pieces Of Me has become the “a-ha!” moment for Bloom. The record has received widespread applause from the likes of Impose Magazine, No Depression, The Seattle Times, PopDose to name but a few. Now it has us on our feet clapping as well.

Pieces Of Me provides a remedy for a paradoxical problem: wanting to listen to a record that is diverse yet cohesive all at once. You’d be hard-pressed to find another album so adventurous in its genre-hopping. Some truly unique compositions crop up on both the bluegrass-infused title track as well as “Zombie,” a searing social commentary set to sinister, plunking jazz rhythms.

No shocker here, but some of my favorite moments occur on the album’s more forlorn cuts; take the somnolent piano ballad “Everywhere But Here” for instance, which sounds sweetly ominous with its cinematic strings and crescendo vocals. The pared-down “Turn Back to You” nourishes all of the hopeless romantic, sap-atoms I possess, and who could deny those harmonies? *Swoon*

Pieces stands tall like a well-constructed sandwich; varying ingredients piled between two hearty slabs of bread-though these slices would have to be gluten free, as Bloom informed the University of Washington’s Medicine Pulse podcast earlier this year: she suffers from celiac disease. The parallel pieces holding everything together are the album’s two versions of “Lift Me Up.”

Both commencing and closing the record, the opening iteration is a rapturous, stringed affair simultaneously hopeful and melancholy. However, the dance-remix closer paints the song in washes of synths and should absolutely be saved for the last dance. It’s the kind of late-night, low-lit pop-drama fit for Robyn herself.

Throughout Pieces you will find tasteful arrangements seasoned with swells of cello, warm trumpet tones, expertly plucked mandolin, and electric guitar so sexily understated it is baffling. While all of that might sound heady on paper, the instrumentation is grounded and never overpowers Bloom’s distinctly crystalline vocals. I suspect a large portion of the record’s success can be attributed to Camille Bloom’s new producer: Camille Bloom.

After years of recording with producers such as the acclaimed Martin Feveyear (who takes a mixing and mastering credit on Pieces) Bloom wanted to take a crack at doing it herself this time. After crowdfunding the record’s required budget and building a home studio on her farm property in Washington State, Bloom spent hours in the newly christened Silo Studio with engineer and percussionist Logan Billingsley laying down tracks, tweaking, and comping. The result is quite the accomplishment, not only reaffirming the artist’s chops as a songwriter, but her new byline as a producer to boot.

After listening to the record in full, one might ask: what are the pieces of Camille Bloom? Songwriter. Producer. Teacher. Singer. Wearer of brightly patterned shirts. Scorpio. Wife.

Even putting all of her qualifications into a list or resume seems reductive, and I am brought back to what that guy Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” So no matter how wonderful each piece of Camille Bloom may be, what they add up to is something so lovely that even I struggle to put it into words. So I will just let her.

(Did I mention she’s my big sister?)

Watch the video for “Pieces of Me” below.