Homey by CHONRelease date: June 16, 2017
Label: Sumerian Records
It is appropriate that I’m sat here reviewing this record today – the sun is streaming through the window, the temperature is comfortably in the mid 20’s and I’m gagging for an ice-cream – in other words this is the perfect environment to listen to CHON. Their music is so light and effortless that it feels like summer in auditory form, with a warmth and a sheer joy to the technicality on display that translates to an almost immediate smile on my face whenever I listen to them.
CHON came to my attention with the release of their debut full-length Grow in 2015; I was seduced by the poppy optimism of their sound and then bowled over by the technical ability of the playing, so when Homey was announced, I eagerly popped in my pre-order. I’ve been struggling to describe these guys; looking at a genre cold doesn’t convey how great this band is – ostensibly they play a largely instrumental progressive music – when I hear that phrase it almost always conjurs up images of either a) 70’s double denim and on-stage masturbatory musical epics or b) bleak soundscapes with song lengths that can be measured in hours, rather than minutes. Fortunately CHON break this stereotype almost entirely. Only one song cracks the 4 minute mark, so none of the songs outstays their welcome and there’s not an ounce of fat on the songwriting. Although the playing is almost virtuouso it never feels excessive, and there’s always a simple progression just around the corner to bring the listener back. And then there’s that glorious clean summer-y tone. There’s not a hint of distortion on the record, the bass is clean, springy and funky and the key is mostly major, creating the most positive and optimistic listening experience of 2017 so far. The press bio that came with the songs states that the band rented a space just off the beach to write and record; this comes as no surprise at all – this record practically smells of summer.
Opener and first single ‘Sleepy Tea’ is a great showcase for the band, laid back guitar vibes and bouncing bass over groovy – and occasionally oddly aggressive – drum patterns. It’s technical, but still light and accessible, a trend which is continued with ‘Waterslide’, which brings the same warmth and rhythm to the sound and adds a jazzy unpredictability. It’s odd, because it’s clearly a tightly orchestrated song, as they all are, and the performance is perfect – I’m not going to lie, the bass part in the middle of this song nearly made me want to quit playing bass – but it still manages to feel like a band jamming, it has that effortless looseness in the interaction between the players, which is actually quite magical, and makes the whole thing feel, well, human, in a way that most technical progressive music frankly doesn’t. ‘Continue?’ is a great example of this humanity, easing into the song with a gentle build before a smooth, shimmering guitar line and a funky bass line takes the lead, and a bouncy, driving drum pattern pushes the song forward. ‘No Signal’ is probably my pick of the bunch, it just makes the hair on my arms go up, it is a perfectly crafted synergy of bass, drums and guitars. Kudos goes to Eric Palmquist for capturing the warmth of the instrumentation so perfectly, and for balancing the instruments in the mix such that every note of the complex compositions are clear and audible.
The album throws some curveballs – mostly in the form of collaborations with other artists – ‘CHONxGoYama: Berry Streets’ strips live percussion from the track and replaces it with a gentle electro backdrop that with the right marketing push could trouble the charts, ‘CHONxLophile: Nayphoo’ adds a modern R&B feel with guest vocals from Masego, which feels like the biggest departure from the CHON ‘norm’, if there is such a thing – again, this song has real potential to turn up on the summer charts, the anthemic vocal and the smooth backing and beat accentuating the delicate guitar touches. ‘CHONxGiraffage: Feel this Way’ brings a touch of very restrained lo-fi dubstep to the mix, which mixes remarkably well with the shimmering clean guitar. ‘CHONxROM: Glitch’ feels like the most ‘CHON’ of the collaborations, with the guitar taking the lead in the majority of the song and providing the main hook, before a startling synth line captures the attention.
Homey is a sugary sweet, ray of sunshine of a record. It revels in the sheer joy of musicianship, while providing an experience which manages the weird feat of being both frenetic in terms of the playing, but also laid back and relaxed. Above all it feels very human and real, unlike some technically focused progressive records where the playing feels robotic; the performance is authentic and warm. It is summer music; designed to be played from a knackered set of speakers on a beach, while soaking in the rays and blissfully unaware of the harshness of the world. It is a glorious experience and should be vital listening for anyone with a hankering for something technical, but still accessible. This record has genuinely made my day better, and put a smile on my near legendarily cynical face.