God, it must suck starting a band these days. Where do you start? What sound do you go for? What angle? Today, the market’s so overstuffed, the industry so confused, that it almost seems like a waste. Even the buzz bands have it tough. They’re hot for maybe three minutes, all before some Ritalin-toting teen clicks onto the next act they’re being spoon fed. It’s rough. It’s a war. It’s a never-ending struggle, complicated by the fact that there’s hardly any label support, nobody buys music, and touring seems to be the only lucrative option. That is, if you even have an act worth seeing. So yeah, it sucks. Still, several bands go at it anyways.
Chicago natives at heart, Chaperone champions the current lo-fi folk sound that’s been traditionally popular over the past three to four years. You’ll hear their influences – it is their debut EP, after all – and you’ll recognize their missteps, but that’s the beauty of a band at birth. Sure, there are touches of Arcade Fire here. A little bit of Modest Mouse. You might even catch a whiff of the Avett Brothers. But, while it’s not the most original sound, the group knows how to write a catchy song. That right there goes a long way – especially for today, where “exploring outside the confines of the traditional sound” results in bullshit genres like “witch house” or “chillwave” or “toysavvy”. That last one isn’t even real, but you never know…
As is the case with most bands, there’s traditionally one mastermind to rule them all. In Chaperone’s case, it’s singer-songwriter Shaun Paul. Paul, who also plays guitar and mandolin, formed the band after his previous garage-rock unit, Blueblood, came to a halt. He’s seen his share of lineup changes, but at present, it’s a perfect match. Recorded in an oddball assortment of hallways and kitchens, the Cripple King EP sounds bigger than it really should. Closing song “Waltzing Topside”, the longest of the five tracks here at 4:11, musters up plenty of noises and instrumentation, enough that you forget this isn’t a nationally touring act. Yet. Vocalist Shaylah Kloska nails together one intricate sonnet over some beautifully layered musicianship. When it rounds out the EP, and if you’re not paying attention, you might feel as if you just finished Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. No, seriously.
But that’s the strongest suit of this EP. It’s so simple, but it oozes of quality. Even “Letter to Home”, the folksy driver that works off a teeth-licking shuffle, courtesy of percussionist Thom Des Enfants, accelerates without relying so much on the speed. Instead, it slowly paces itself, stenciling in the track with one instrument after the other. The thing is, regardless of the layers here, it all feels rather skeletal – sort of like a passage from Hemingway. That’s pretty unique.
The rest of Cripple King feels rather flashy – in a good way. “Thomas!” hearkens back to that 2004 indie sound, except instead of feeling like a throwback, it comes off as just plain fun, as if this band’s insisting you to work with them. When Paul screams, “Oh please come find me…” again and again, he’s pummeling at your heart, more or less crawling right into your ear. “Witches & Sailors” feels chummy namely because of the wonderful mandolin accents, but you’ll likely hum it once you’re finished. And while opener “Fed on Coal” may be short, it’s a spunky knocker that clusters all of the band’s finer points together, which, technically, every first track should do.
Like that it’s all over. It’s a quick serving. A sampler, if you will. But that’s all you need from a band nowadays. Chaperone understands that. You want more? Go see them live. In the beginning, that’s how bands should work. Besides, one listen-through and you’ll find it hard to disagree (even if you’ll try to) that the songs demand to be heard live. It’s adventurous, it’s seducing, and it’s rambunctious. Okay, so the sound might not be entirely original, but it’s really good. Think of it this way, how many times have you heard folks say Tom Petty borrowed heavily from Dylan? Yeah, well, you don’t necessarily turn off the radio when “Won’t Back Down” comes on. Bottom line: Not everyone has to be original to be truly memorable. Write that down.
“Witches & Sailors”