Chappo – [LP]

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

While there are plenty of naysayers who will deny this possibility with shocking passion, I contend that some records are as much about the packaging as they are about the music. That is in no way meant to be a criticism; true, most people want great music complimented by great aesthetics (album art, design, production et c.) but, especially in the cases of new bands who have no name to bank on because they haven't achieved mass appeal yet, sometimes the packaging makes the first impression and it falls to the music to try and live up to it. A good example of the package setting expectations that the music must then try to validate can be found in the vinyl pressing of Chappo's Majordomo debut album Moonwater. The front cover image of jewels among a rock pile (designed by photographer Nelson Rockwood and singer Alex Chappo) will certainly raise a few eyebrows and pique some curiosity, but eyes will get a whole lot wider when they see the two transparent, colorless vinyl discs into which the music has been pressed. No matter how you look at it, when you see it you'll have to agree that it just looks cool.

That cool vibe carries over into the music found on the album too. Opening with “What Are You Kids On?” – a rock rave-up which owes as much to Peter Gabriel and Modest Mouse as it does all of the New Wave recorded in the 1980s – Chappo cuts an unexpected first impression which quickly wins fans over because it is just so tight and catchy that it's impossible it's impossible to keep one's foot from tapping; the reflex is involuntary. That involuntary urge continues as “What Are You Kids On” gives way to “Explode” before venturing into territory which bears a striking resemblance to the terrain once occupied by The Flaming Lips (“Hell No”) and then falling squarely into a very Blur-ry form for “Close Home,” which closes out the first side of the set. In each case, the rhythms are stiff, of course, but the lean guitars supplied by Dave Feddock and the swishing keyboards kicked in by Chris Olson hang beautifully on them as ornaments would on a Christmas tree; they're delicate and pretty.

With the basic precedents for Moonwater set by the first side of Disc One, listeners may think they have an idea of what to expect from there on out – but there are still some thrills to be found, without question. On “Don't,” for example, those rhythms which were so rigid on the first side of Moonwater soften up enough to sound like Chappo is playing classic rock on the moon before “5-0” updates bombastic rhythm of Billy Joel's “We Didn't Start The Fire” for a new and far less focused generation and “Nomads” (which is one of the songs that appears on the vinyl set, but not its CD counterpart) just sort of boils under in a perfectly synthetic way. Those weird little dips and turns quickly become the exciting things that fans begin to hope for as the record plays through.

As positive an experience as Moonwater is, it is worth pointing out that, for as many high points as there are on this vinyl set (and readers are advised to spring for the vinyl; the songs included here but left off the CD are worth the price of admission), there is absolutely still room for improvement on Moonwater. On future releases, for example, Chappo would be well-advised to steer clear of over-wrought, mid-tempo snores like “Hollywood” and sweeping, psudo-cultural summaries like the one “Shots Fired” appears to be – if they can help it. Even if they have to indulge that need, however, two feebs in a set of fifteen isn't a bad ratio; with some time to hammer out the dents, it'll be interesting to see what a sophomore release from Chappo might bring.



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