A concept album, Future Former Self , is far from perfect storytelling, but does allow Chappo to explore intriguing musical and stylistic themes.
The Brooklyn based indie-rock quartet, Chappo, did not received much hype in the lead up to their second studio album Future Former Self , but what information did come out about the sophomore album was intriguing to say the least.
The band shared that the album is a concept album centered on a character named Rene who travels through time and space by way of a black hole apparently moments before the narrative within the album begins. This is a bit confusing because nothing in Chappo’s catalogue up to this point would suggest that they are the kind of avant-garde group that would attempt such a feat. It is only after listening to Future Former Self that one begins to understand. Despite the ambitious promise of a mind-altering trip through space and time, the concept promised is followed extremely loosely and with very little discernable narrative, a realization that turns out to help, instead of hold back, the album as a whole.
This is not to say that singer-songwriter and lead man Alex Chappo was being facetious in the lead-up to the album. Future Former Self does play into the theme of universal exploration, but this is done as much with sound and feel than it is with lyrical content. For example, the opening track ostensibly serves as an introduction to the character we are to follow — the track is literally titled “Hello” — but very little is actually learned about what is supposed to be happening. The only concrete thing that can be said is that we are given a distinctly happy mood from “Hello” which features a pervading whistling melody and jangly pop feel throughout. This is just one in a series of examples showing that this theme will be far from overpowering.
One thing that the concept does give listeners is some awesome production choices. Almost all the guitars throughout the album are given an edge to them, whether that be heavy reverb or a kind of echoing bounce. This takes what could be run-of-the-mill indie pop tracks and gives them an attitude that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
One such track is “I Don’t Need The Sun”, perhaps the highpoint of the record, which features hollowed out guitar riffs which make up the backbone of the song. Despite the lyrics once again containing very little in the way of comprehensible plot, they are perhaps the most interesting on the album. The narrator, which I can only assume is Rene, rattles off several things in this corporeal world that he can live without: water, clouds, oxygen and beach to name a few. The fact that it is unclear whether this is because Rene is so alien none of these things mean a thing to him doesn’t matter, because the idea serves its purpose as a good enough topic for a song.
There are also other stylistic choices, like the decidedly spaceship-sounding synths that line the underbelly of tracks like “I’m Not Ready”, that serve to transport listeners to the slightly altered universe in which Future Former Self aims to exist.
This is where the idea of a “concept” becomes so smart. Alex Chappo and team didn’t have to map out a perfect story for the concept of space travel and Carl Sagan-esque ideas to work, they just had to create a specific space feel. This allowed them to explore a variety of sounds without creating the harsh dichotomy that would have existed had they paired this same music with songs about say, a first date or lost love. When many times a concept can pigeonhole artists and keep an album from becoming fully realized, Chappo’s loose concept allowed them to breathe, making Future Former Self, while not a masterpiece in storytelling, at least pretty darn intriguing.