Thursday, October 2, 2008
Well it seems a band that consistently flies under the radar – maybe due to their name, but I’ve gone on about that too many times already – is even flying under the over saturated, blogger/PR radar. Vancouver music stalwarts, The Buttless Chaps, are back with a new record.
Snuck up on you didn’t it?
Well, it seems that Dave Gowans and crew are fixing to release Cartography on October 14th and I didn’t hear a peep about it until it arrived in my mailbox (and I tend to log into Mint Records at least once a week for updates).
Cartography, like you might expect, involves a journey; not a journey for the band but for the listener and one that goes from coast to coast of our great country. The Chaps have always been able to combine folk with icy cold synths with well thought out orchestral pop that represent the spacious beauty of our country, but on Cartography they seem to be ready to speak to a larger, city dwelling audience.
Gowans ability to pen a sci-fi ballads and rural anthems (and tracks like Coal Grey Sky will satisfy any classic Chaps fan), but with beautiful harmonies, static electro currents and terrific percussion the Chaps are able to replicate lonely nights in dark cities (the energy that crackles throughout the desolate title track is incredible).
As the energy on The Opera builds and builds and Gowans trademark baritone balances the dancing, intricate textures, you can’t help but think of Matt Beringer and how his vocals integrate with the expert musicians of The National. But instead of coming off like another NYC band trying to replicate those songs, The Chaps quickly push the envelope in a new direction when they jump into robotic voice box distorted vocals and add orchestral horns to the song. No, you can never accuse the band of trying to sound like anyone else. After 10 years, they are comfortable in their own musical skin.
You’d think a track like When It’s Cold Outside would be spare and cold, but the track is full of warmth. Ida’s vocals compliment Dave nicely and Dan Gaucher’s drum work adds pinks and oranges to the effort like morning’s first light. Are We Forgiven Now? starts out as another melodic acoustic /electric mix, but the band spikes the energy in an interesting classic rock/early Radiohead hybrid. Complications May Arise experiments with an almost surf guitar riff, and that diversity is what I love about Cartography – and all of the Chaps recordings to be honest. You are left to play a constant guessing game.
When the soothing folk tones of Water By The Wayside start, you can't help but wonder where the band will take the song. Slowly the horns come in and the clacking percussion starts dancing. Then they toss in Ida’s perfect backing vocals and a burst of energy from the drums before giving way to piano textures and warbled synth effects that sound terrific but never take away from the beautiful melody or crowd the mix. Every element is exposed at the right time (like the Ravi Shankar sitar psychedelics that show up out of nowhere on the title track), and the listener is able to digest every note thanks to the band's incredible patience and restraint.
I’ve long since realized that The Buttless Chaps are destined to be an under-appreciated entity; a band that could be huge if ever given the chance, but I’m also quite happy knowing that they can sneak up on me and deliver a record that pushes boundaries and can still be completely enjoyable from start to finish.