Album Review: The Chapin Sisters – Two

She & Him are the epitome of springtime, with their bright, catchy songs about the sun shining and love flourishing. Listening to the nostalgic ukulele, tambourine, and piano play together, alongside the charming interplay between Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, is bliss. (Zooey Deschanel’s interminable energy sure doesn’t hurt either.) Their live shows feature a whole band, snappily clad, complete with drums, a bassist, another guitar and backup singers. On their tour early this year, these backup singers, and sometimes openers, were immensely talented folk singers Abigail and Lily Chapin. Normally, the backup singers aren’t the story – but this time, it’s a little different.

Abigail and Lily Chapin, The Chapin Sisters, hail from an entire family of musicians – seriously, their dad is an established songwriter, musician, and storyteller, their uncle was a musician, and they have released Christmas albums as a huge family band – and it shows with their well-crafted brand of folk pop that perfectly caters to their vocal abilities. Despite their father writing children’s songs, the joviality of holiday tunes, and touring with sugary Deschanel and company, their style fails to follow suit. If She & Him are springtime, The Chapin Sisters, and their newest album Two, are late fall into early winter. The time where the air is cold and piercing, but not yet gusting and abrasive. That time where the leaves are gone, but the snow has yet to come.

Two is just that; the two voices of sisters Abigail and Lily delicately intertwining among sparse instrumentation to create powerful harmonies that simultaneously awe with their beauty and recollect memories probably better left untouched. Although their talent is undeniable and compelling, the distraught emotions can only be interestingly sung so many times – leaving the second half of the album, unfortunately, monotonous.

The album begins with a capella “Sweet Light”, an introduction to The Chapin Sisters’ mesmerizing harmonies. The reverberating voices haunt you, seeming so immediate and intimate even when the lyrics contemplate something as impersonal as light. Lethargic “I Can Feel” follows, a tale of a love without communication. Thematically, “Paradise” continues on, despite its seemingly positive name and departure from the solely acoustic previous tracks with addition of piano. Referring to a past lover longingly with “No other drug will do… I’m so much better off with you,” the track laments self-destructive love.

Finally, “Digging a Hole” adds some serious musical variety with entrancing percussion and nearly chanted, hypnotic vocals. Functioning as a transition to the general struggles of life and institutions, such as marriage, instead of those strictly related to love, the sisters emphatically repeat “I’m digging a hole, I’ll be digging for the rest of my life”. Not exactly an uplifting message, but a sonically interesting song and the strongest on the album. From this point on, Two is, frankly, grossly myopic. The lyrics fail to see even a chance for future redemption or hope, and continue to even have a song called “Boo Hoo”.

“Birds in My Garden” croons “It’s really time for a change,” but no progress is seen until the last song. With the tempo upped minimally by a handclap and the twang of a banjo, “Trouble” at least sounds a little more optimistic, even if the lyrics remain less than ecstatic about life. Although their voices fit together wonderfully and their music has a true affect, The Chapin Sisters fall short of their full potential with Two, an album only seeing one side of life and leaves us hoping the duo makes it through the winter.


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