The Chaw - The Chaw
I have always had great admiration for bands who being their debut albums with an instrumental, especially one which is so different from the rest of the album. And yet, with "Campaigning Man", that is precisely what California based The Chaw have done on their self-titled debut. Don't be fooled. Despite the sound, this is not an acoustic album of Spanish influenced medieval guitar music. The next track, "Everything Wrong", will quickly convince you of that. "Everything Wrong" is heavy on synthesisers, pumping out a sinister sounding melody, with the deep, dark vocals reminiscent of Peter Murphy.
The third track, "The Whole Night Through", takes another turn. Shimmering guitars open with an almost shoegaze feel before settling down into a simple riff which gnaws its way into your head and then drives into a mix of psychedelia, garage rock and good old fashioned down and dirty rock. Thed nearest I can approximate this to, from what I have heard, is the Ponys, but this is far better than the Ponys ever were and probably ever could be. There is a sense of innovation, of matching the music to the theme which pervades the entire album. "The Road" has a rhythm which lulls you into a sense that you are driving across some featureless plain in Texas at night only to be jolted awake by a crashing chord which tells you some massive truck has just passed on the other side of the road. Driving music for people who are too dangerous to ever be put behind the wheel by anyone with a shred of sanity left in them.
In fact the darkness is a theme which pervades the entire album. "Rat" exemplifies this, an urban creature which lives in the sewers of our modern world and is never more than ten feet away from you, wherever you may be in the city. Makes the rodent seem like a stalker, and stalking is what the song reminds you of. "In the Valley", though an instrumental, some harmonies apart, really ought to be the soundtrack to the 23rd Psalm, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." If so, Moses was playing "Mount Diablo" on his iPod as he ascended Mount Sinai. Not that I am religious, you understand, but there is something Biblical in the proportions the Chaw's music assumes as it thunders out of your speakers. This is one album you do not need to crank up to eleven on the volume dial to experience its full force. There is no coincidence that the band's vocalist, Stephen, is the son of a preacher, for he must have got that cadence and intonation from listening to his father.
But it is not all so thrusting. The penultimate track, "Changing Blues" has the baritone voice over a guitar which sounds like John Watts on "Luton to Lisbon", Chris Izaak and Cherry Ghost. I can imagine a sprite with a guitar sitting on a tree stump by the crossroads waiting for the next lost soul to wander by and sell itself to the Devil for ten years of fame and fortune. The final track, "I with You" doesn't seek to kick you out of that laid back feel straight away, continuing with a similar guitar sound and vocal, but gets going, the anticipation building about a third of the way through. And though it never loses that feel it began with - the sprite jumped off his stump and into the car right beside you as you accelerate away - it gains in power and ferocity as it hurtles towards its end.
It is indeed a long time since I have heard something this good from an unsigned rock band. If there is justice in this world then the Chaw will get themselves some heavy duty recognition from the release of their debut album. There is an intensity about the music which is so often lacking, and while I would not compare them with other bands, if you like your rock to be driving and clean with a feeling of power behind it, then you are going to like this.
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