[18 February 2007]
The Chalets, a young Irish five-piece, get a U.S. release for their debut, Check In, a year and a half after originally unleashing themselves on the UK scene. The cynic in me asks: why bother? The Chalets are two girls and three guys from Dublin, Ireland. The band members share a design/fashion background, which might make you remember Cansei De Ser Sexy, and apparently the band’s live show is similarly (if not quite as brazenly) filled with sexual overtones and old-fashioned showmanship. But further than matching cutesy outfits, a successful stab at the electro-novelty thing requires some on-record personality. That’s where the Chalets just slightly fall down – and in pop music, a stumble can mean a mile.
As long as we’re free-associating, ‘Irish’ and ‘beer’ are probably inseparable, ‘fun’ not far behind. And even though bands like Cranberries and U2 don’t immediately justify that equation music-wise, a newer crop of indie outfits including La Rocca seem to be more comfortable embracing that Irish love of good times—their sweet, entirely conventional “Sketches (Of a Twenty Something Life)” a prototype of the form. The Chalets are aiming at something more mainstream than most of La Rocca’s tunes, a kind of subtle electro-pop informed by ‘60s girl groups and reliant in large measure overdriven bass lines and vocal harmonies. A prototypical track is “No Style”, which sounds like a revved-up Belle & Sebastian. But the Chalets stop too early on each phrase, as if they’re afraid to commit; at least the English band’s convincing in the way it spins out its anachronistic pleasures.
I got the feeling, listening to Check In, that the Chalets are to rock-pop what Young Love is to straight electro—all sheen with no soul. The group’s alternating male-female vocals, layered group harmonies and familiar chord progressions are all strong individual elements of a sound, but that pesky obsession with fun somehow de-substantializes everything. “Red High Heels” uses a beat from the Strokes, but the female multi-tracked verse and the overly-simple, overly-familiar chorus grate. I guess that’s pop, but it’s also why we turn away from pop to something more interesting. Even in their more laid-back moments, like on the mid-tempo “Gogo Don’t Go”, the sparseness of bass + voice lacks substance. That song almost reaches to a new plane with a buzzy electro interlude, but like so much throughout the disc, it’s a fragment that’s dabbled at, an embellishment, rather than the substance of a more inventive pop sound.
The group seems, too, to be a little unlucky in track selection. “Sexy Mistake”, a soft-edged track that tries for CSS’s disinterested sexiness and fails, repeats almost exactly the feel of the track immediately prior. That’s one of the CD’s better cuts, “Nightrocker”, and the back-to-back placement is to the detriment of the better song. The album’s best song, “Love Punch”, comes so late on the disc you may already have switched off—mentally, if not physically. But it’s worth a listen, that one song; the most brutal by far of any of the Chalets’ songs, “Love Punch” adds wobble to the bassline and bile to the lyrics.
There’s a conceit to Check In, which has to do with travel, though it’s never really developed past the point of song titles. The train-signal “oohs” on too-short filler “Arrivals” might point to the truism that we’re always traveling, in our lives—something like that. But deep statements aren’t (and shouldn’t be) a forte for a band that includes a track called “Two Chord Song”. Which is as it’s described, by the way.
The Chalets’ debut effort may be good for a few radio singles, the casually heard and hardly noted fodder that fuels the working day of so many, but Check In‘s too half-hearted, too superficial to bother any discerning listener for long. Fun’s all well and good, but you deserve something a bit more substantial.