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The Chap
Digital Technology Johny Lamb , November 27th, 2019 10:03

In Digital Technology, the latest album by The Chap, Johny Lamb hears something like a thinking man's Ween

Digital Technology is the seventh full-length release by muso-absurdists, The Chap. I’ll confess that The Chap are a band I had lost touch with over the last few years, but I had seen them play a few times and had always thoroughly enjoyed myself. They were a firm favourite of my musician friends, and I think that’s noteworthy. They are a band’s band. This is both a good and a bad thing: it demonstrates their musical ability and imagination, but potentially this cleverness can get in the way of a broader appeal. I think that bands like XTC or Talk Talk have the same sort of issue. Personally though, I relish the smart and esoteric thing they do.

The Chap are refreshing, because they ignore completely that part of popular music culture that values trauma, depth and seriousness above all other things. They are willing to be playful – funny even. While comedy music still remains a poor cousin of more serious efforts, The Chap never quite stray into flat-out stupidity. They are not a comedy band, but much of what they do seems to have a sarcastic raised eyebrow or a cheeky wink. This never comes across as gauche or irritating, because they are just really good at it. It’s wit without smugness, and it’s cleverness without arrogance.

This album is framed as what AI music would sound like if it tried to “make pop music that sounds like it was made by talented Europeans in 2018”. There is a twinkle of confident self-mockery here, and the description deftly turns attention to their skill. This is their great selling point. Yes, they are witty, but it’s musicianship and quality that are the primary currencies here. The musical quotation evident is flawlessly observed. The running ostinatos of ‘Pea shore’ are worthy of Glass or Reich as the subtle shifts in pattern work through the track in purely liquid fashion. Likewise, the savage synthesis of ‘I recommend you do the same’ becomes almost overwhelming. There is an almost sculptural hyperrealism to this music. It’s not pastiche – but like pastiche, even though it’s often comedic, it lacks ‘satirical impulse’ (to paraphrase Fredric Jameson). Jameson is an appropriate touchstone here, as The Chap are certainly postmodernists. The concept of the album alone pushes us toward this territory.

The uneasy, near-dissonance of ‘Merch’ feels like the perfect soundtrack to our current flailing late capitalism. Relentless, abrasive and seductive. It feels as though there is indeed a serious side to the work, they’re just serious about different things to most pop writers. It feels a record absolutely embedded in its own time. “Hey, those boots won’t wear themselves – Hey, those tears are real, I know” seems to chime with the neurosis of the Instagram age. The Chap feel like the thinking person’s Ween. These moments of apparent sincerity are juxtaposed with the surreal pronouncements of other songs. “Touch yourself: bring your dolphin” they advise on the record’s baffling, yet charming opening track. The result is that even when I’m lost, I trust them. There’s a purpose at work here, even if sometimes it’s not apparent to me. I can just lie here and enjoy. A colourful and clever basket of musical chops and assured intelligence.