CARM is the debut self-titled album of multi-instrumentalist, producer, and arranger CJ Camerieri. Whether it’s playing the iconic piccolo trumpet solo on Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” anthemic horn parts on songs like The National’s “Fake Empire,” Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago,” or Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago; performing with his contemporary classical ensemble yMusic; or recording lush beds of french horns for artists from John Legend to The Tallest Man on Earth, you have very likely heard Camerieri play. He is the musician that musicians want to play with, and that is further evidenced by the cast on his debut.
The music of CARM features the trumpet and french horn in roles typically reserved for drums, guitars, and voices, while also seeking to escape the genre categorizations normally reserved for music featuring an instrumentalist as bandleader. It is not jazz or classical music, nor is it a soundtrack to a larger narrative. This is contemporary popular music that features a sound normally used as a background color and texture as the unabashed lead voice.
According to Camerieri, “CARM started with the question: ‘What kind of record would my trumpet-playing heroes from the past make today?’ I believe they would want to work with the best producers, beat makers, song-writers, and singers to create new, truly culturally relevant music, and that’s what I sought to do with this project.” The record was produced in Minneapolis by Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Poliça, Lizzo) and features collaborations with Sufjan Stevens, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Yo La Tengo, Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond), Mouse on Mars, Jake Luppen (Hippo Campus), and many others. It is a completely unique sound that additionally serves as a survey of the collaborations that have come to define the artist’s career thus far.
Diverse interests have characterized Camerieri’s musical life. He initially aspired to become a jazz player, then attended Julliard, a classical institution, and studied arranging after graduation. Yet there was one underlying element that connected these pursuits: “Looking back, I was continually seeking a musical outlet that could combine all these disparate things in a way that also featured a level of virtuosity on the instrument. My first job with Sufjan was what set me on that path. He encouraged me to play with pedals, to learn french horn. I played a lot of keyboard, I helped him craft horn arrangements, and it opened up a whole new world for me to experiment and explore.”
The album was conceived by surveying the contemporary music scene and identifying a type of disconnect. Turning inward, he found answers to his musical restlessness in an unlikely source: horns. “I found the shortage of popular music for my instrument surprising when there’s so much music being made.” Eventually, Camerieri had enough material to take the next steps. “I spent months experimenting with writing songs centered on the horn as the lead voice, and then traveled to Minneapolis to work with Ryan [Olson], who has always struck me as the nexus of great creative music made in the Midwest. I arrived a few days early and had numerous musical chats with Justin [Vernon] and Trever [Hagen] about what the record could look like. They encouraged me to ignore the music I had written and embrace Ryan’s process. After one night of writing together, both Ryan and I understood exactly what this record would be.”
The album begins with an orchestral brass choir of French horns, which quickly gives way to a piano sample of Francis and the Lights, as Stevens and Luppen combine voices over a lush bed of horns to sing "Song of Trouble." The album bookends with the same piano sample used as a springboard to a beautiful and iconic lyric by Vernon in the album closer "Land."
Between these two generation-defining artists we have the upward sweeping melodies in "Soft Night," fanfares reminiscent of Ennio Morricone in "Nowhere," and the uncompromisingly original sound of Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo in "Already Gone." Two dark and mysterious journeys in "After Hours" and "Invisible Walls" give way to the virtuoso sound of Nova's voice, who the artist stood side-by-side with during his first Sufjan Stevens tour over a decade ago.
"Slantwise" and "Scarcely Out" take us back down a more experimental path before the strings from yMusic members Rob Moose and Gabriel Cabezas bring us back to the piano sample that started the record. Given the oversaturated contemporary music market that often recycles well-trodden sounds, CARM offers a respite for those seeking an original voice.