The Chewers • Chuckle Change And Also • Cimmerian Shade
The Chewers are: Travis Caffrey & Michael Sadler
Sometimes, when you hear something wild and whacky in life, you find yourself looking in bewilderment like WTF? My friends, after listening to the 22-track album that is Chuckle Change And Also by West Virginian duo The Chewers (by way of Nashville, TN), I found myself expressing this sentiment after every track. Folks, Chuckle Change is definitely some kind of a ride. Throw the idea of ‘standard’ out the door prior to the first track as this album is incredibly progressive. Sometimes the progressive nature hurts accessibility, but ultimately, that is a necessary sacrifice for the good of the album and future of music. While it’s not the ‘second coming’ (way too dark and devilish for that), Chuckle Change offers the listener a true alternative to trendiness, conformity, and what pitfalls can make commercial music come off as generic and empty.
“(Now)” opens the off-kilter effort as one would expect – off-kilter. As to exactly what is going on, well that question is still needs to be answered. Regardless, “(Now)” and all of its near 50 seconds of off-kilter-ness (is that even a word?) definitely sets the tone. The minimalist, noisy “Can’t Sleep” is evidence of the ‘tone’ that characterizes the entirety of Chuckle Change And Also. Bizarre yet in its own quirky way genius, “Can’t Sleep” represents…um… nonconformity. Nonconformity and being fearless to be different is something more musicians could stand to embrace. The Chewers certainly do, referencing not only the obvious lack of “sleep”, but also accompany the idea lyrically whether it is “tomorrow’s looming in the dark” or “body tense…stressed / the more I fret, the less I rest”. The oddball groove is nothing short of hypnotic. “Burn It Down” is lengthier than the opening duo, pacing itself into a foot-tapping groove. As groovy as it is, don’t think The Chewers have settled into being ‘normal’. There is still a tension as one listens, with guitar and effect-laden lead vocals leading the charge.
The bizarre experience continues with the weirdly titled “Techno-Slaves”, which lives up to its unique name. The production has techno sound effects that seem to signal outer space: “Space is feeling with magnet waves… the brain is a megaphone that can’t shut off…” WTF? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. The Chewers have the audience’s attention from the opening note and they retain it throughout if for no other reason to see where they’re going musically. “Filthy” proves to be as unorthodox as everything else, with a hint of jazz added to the mix (for lack of a better stylistic choice). If the audience gets nothing else from a minute-and-a-half of “Filthy”, they learn that these dudes are filthy – at least contextually within the song (“Walking down the street in crusted clothes…I haven’t bathed in a thousand days / I’m filthy”). Then comes “Some Folks”, which manages to use the word “malignant” lyrically… For those who don’t mind dissonance, the accusatory “Some Folks” is your cup of tea.
What better way to follow up the previous “(Now)” with “(Later)”, another unexplainable interlude? While cohesiveness probably shouldn’t be in the same sentence with this album in general (save for overall being ‘all over the place’), at least there is a connection between, well something. “(Later)” is followed up with the gutty sounding instrumental “A Part Machine”, which once more gives the listener a sick groove to latch onto. When all other sense of normalcy fails, cling to the groove! “A Part Machine” is more than a groove – it is actually quite an alluring soundscape if you will. The bright rhythmic guitar coupled with a sense of ‘twistedness’ makes this instrumental truly notable. “Inmate 227” confounds immediately, yet it does make some sense. It’s about an inmate being released from prison. It’s not your standard narrative for a song, but what is standard about this album? Exactly!
After “Inmate 227”, the focus comes to “Smiling Samuel”, another heck of a song title. Creepy, the sentiment is few want to hang out with Sam – and perhaps even The Chewers, LOL! Difficult to listen to yet respectably creative, “Smiling Samuel” continues to find The Chewers flexing. It takes little analysis to under “The Fat Man”, but it is arguably a bit more bearable than “Smiling Samuel”. It’s not the most attractive track (understatement), but The Chewer’s musicianship and ‘off-kilter’ ideas play well here. “The Fat Man” definitely would be perfect for Halloween, but then again, so would much of this album. The brief “Mutter” proceeds. While it is brief, “mutter” isn’t very quiet…LOL. And as for “I’m Afraid”, well, I’ve held that sentiment since track one – just saying! With the production playing like a tone poem, the tense music definitely exemplifies the title and listener’s likely emotions.
“Down There” is equally, if not more horrifying and definitely extraterrestrial. Face it, that organ is “very, very frightening! Galileo!” Then when the “Teeth Lock” cacophonously with tribal-like pounding drums, shiiizzz gets real…cray that is! “Teeth Lock” definitely brings several distinct names to mind – Lucifer, Baal, Satan, Mephistopheles – catch my drift? While perhaps repentance is a must after listening, at least the sin was a creative and intriguing one while it lasted! Guess what follows “(Now)” and “(Later)”? “(Past)” of course… and “That’s all I have to say about that!” Forrest Gump reference of course. Whether “Box Head Space” somehow connects to the ‘past’ would take a couple more listens to decode, but where overall sound lies, it is very much a product of the future. It’s truly out in space.
“Tornado of Stasis” ends up receiving the honor of the lengthiest joint, breaking with the brevity that characterizes the majority. While the dissonant track is as ugly as they come, it once more plays faithfully to its title. Tornadoes are incredibly scary and often life altering weather events as they funnel and destroy everything in sight, including the living. Stasis of course is defined as a state of stability or as Merriam-Webster simplifies it, stagnation. Put the two ideas together, coupled with the adventurous music, and the perfect storm is before us. What’s interesting, at least from a personal perspective, is that the slow tempo seems to represent bore and lethargy of stasis, while the dissonance exemplifies the tornado. A highlight – by all means!
There is still some “Steam” (a little more than a half-minute’s worth) following the storm, while “Funnel Head” infuses rejuvenated energy and eccentricity. “Funnel Head” should please metal heads, given its jaggedness. Penultimate track “Blank Pavement” delivers excellent pacing, beginning unstable but developing stability along the way. It’s still freaky stuff, but you take accessibility where and when it’s offered. Closing cut “Went Away” is definitely spacey; rather than relying heavily on noisiness, it invests more into sounding drugged out.
So… what’s the verdict on arguably the year’s most left of center album? It’s actually very well done and definitely stands out. While calling Chuckle Change a masterpiece might be an exaggeration, it is indeed captivating, even when it’s harder to process. From a musical standpoint, you get the impression that these West Virginia boys are out to make a unique statement with this particular album and brand of music. They easily accomplish this feat. If you need some quirk in your life, this is the album for you!
“Can’t Sleep”; “Techno-Slaves”; “A Part Machine”; “The Fat Man”; “Teeth Lock”; “Tornado of Stasis”