Introducing: The debut LP from local indie rock group Chalk (Release show Saturday!)
The best albums draw you in with the first couple tracks, casting a spell that, if successful, leads to a half-hour of unconscious head-nodding punctuated by the occasional moment of sublime enjoyment that breaks you out of your reverie to notice what’s going on. That’s been my experience with Chalk’s newest album, Water.
This is an album that is both deeply evocative of mid-90s indie rock bands like Modest Mouse and Built to Spill (and even the less-weird work of The Flaming Lips) and modern enough that it sounds fresh even two decades after those bands recorded their best work.
The first two tracks, “Magic Mirror” and “Future Sport” set the tone for an album that features plenty of effortless, reverb and chorus-laden guitar interplay, driving rhythms, and inscrutable lyrics. From the start, the band puts forth the kind of jangly, off-kilter guitar rock that will be easily accessible to fans of the aforementioned bands, as well as other late 20th century guitar bands like Spent and the Spinanes.
“Future Sport” is the first standout here, opening with a watery guitar line like a sound caught in a throat, but the verse spills out like a confident, stream-of-consciousness confession, with a backbeat like small arms fire. And the track is stuffed full of sounds; crystalline guitar lines slashing across the rhythm; watery interludes bursting with sound, punctuated with echoing guitar jabs; whining synth strings that sound like they’re being played back on a warped tape; back-masked vocal samples. It’s a wildly adventurous musical statement that also manages to be an coherent guitar pop song.
In all, I’m not exactly sure what to think about this bewitching album, but it’s got its hooks into me. At times, it’s almost maddeningly dense with sound, filled with kind of dense whorl of sound that typified the British post-pop aesthetic of a band like Doves—laden with sonic flourishes to the point where it can sometimes sound muddy—but this kind of maximalism pays off more often than not, with musical ideas rushing in from the left and right throughout the whole record. It’s a trip.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay a little tribute to my favorite tracks here, the frenetic “Seat Belts,” which ends in a Mogwai-cum-Built-to-Spill cacophony of guitar noise and shouted lyrics, and the track that follows it, “Wave Bye – Bye to the Bureaucrat,” which starts like a My Bloody Valentine song and ends, after a considerable tempo change, with a brilliant slide guitar solo that brings to mind the Afghan Whigs’ Rick McCollum at his soulful, punch-drunk best.
I have to wonder if the members of Chalk themselves have even been influenced by all of the bands I’m going on about here, or whether they’ve simply responded to what’s in the musical aether and tapped into something essential that transcends genre and style, and connects directly with the modern mind in some preternatural way. Regardless, the album is highly, highly recommended.
See Chalk’s release show for Water this Saturday, October 22, 2016 at the Kitty Cat Klub. More info HERE.
— Ben Zientara, @BenZientara