Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Chaw-LP (2012)

Well, modesty certainly ain't The Chaw's strong point: their blurb on bandcamp compares their debut's ambiance to Morricone's spaghetti westerns, and their guitar sound to Dick Dale. Usually, I'd tell you a band with that much hubris is completely full of shit. I'm willing to make an exception to that claim, though, upon first listen to The Chaw's debut LP. It's probably that arrogance and swagger that makes this LP memorable. Humility and self-deprecation are attributes best suited to scumbag punks (I should know, I've been one most of my life). The best rock 'n' roll, if it's not mired in self-hatred (re: most of my favorite bands), forces you to pay attention to it with the most outrageous, brash sounds possible.

Enter The Chaw. I'm assuming these guys have been playing for years: this record is a crystal clear statement from the opening instrumental "Campaigning Man" straight through to "I With You," the groove-infested slow burner that closes the album. The Chaw had a vision, and went for it. Then they pulled it off, which is much harder to do. Alex Zhang Hungtai, the mastermind behind Dirty Beaches, one of my favorite band of the last few years, claims that his songs are driven by a sound, around which he constructs a story. The Chaw may not feature the same character on every song, but they're working through the same novel. It's a picaresque adventure story, probably set in the American West. But not the historical American West, in which people died of cholera more often than shoot outs; it's the romanticized West that has fuelled a lot of great music in recent years, such as Nick Cave & Warren Ellis' soundtracks.

As it happens, The Chaw's singer has done a fantastic job of replicating Cave's deep, histrionic yowl. The band as a whole has stolen a page or two from the Grinderman LP, I'm guessing. Get the picture? No? Let me walk you through a song, "Everything Wrong." Melodramatic, Count Dracula organ notes getcha going, followed by a freaked out, clean guitar that ramps up the melodrama; throughout, Mr. Could-be-Nick-Cave howls, shouts, and fundamentally boasts his way through the tune. The LP as a whole, as I said above, tells a story, but each chapter/song is unique. I have to conclude that The Chaw has (almost) earned the right to compare themselves to Mssrs Dale and Morricone.

Listen to the LP here. The next time I start a bar fight in Salinas, California, I'll ask if the bartender to throw this record on, then hit him with a chair if they don't have this LP. Ha! Look for this one on my Top LPs of 2012 List.

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