Cartel: Chroma

John Bergstrom

If you're not under 25 and mad at your parents, this debut from the Atlanta pop-punkers has limited ear-candy appeal.



Label: The Militia Group
US Release Date: 2005-09-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

Listening to Cartel when you're out of your 20s is like watching Showgirls with your parents at any age: Technically, there's nothing wrong with it, but it still feels awkward and less-than-right. On the full-length follow-up to this year's debut Ransom EP, the Atlanta quartet play spunky, wide-eyed, self-described "pop-punk" of a strictly adolescent variety. That's cool. More importantly, though, Chroma features only two great pieces of disposable teenage frustration ("angst" is too strong a word to use for this band) and a bunch of merely adequate ones.

The tracklist alone could've been pulled from Pop-Punk for Dummies: "Say Anything". "Runaway". "Burn This City". "If I Fail". When, on "Matter of Time", Will Pugh sings, "Pack our bags and get away / They're catching on to us", you have to imagine he's referring to his parents' having discovered that he's sneaking out through his bedroom window on weeknights. Actually, Chroma mentions "They" quite a lot, with the general message being that they are not very fair.

Of course, all this is said with chug-chug-chugging guitars on the verses and surging power chords on the choruses. And with Pugh's predictably nasal vocals -- imagine an adolescent version of Brian Molko from Placebo. The production is pristine and just how you'd want it to sound blasting out of your stereo. The guitars are loud but smooth; the snare crackles; the toms thunder; everything's nice and clean.

On those couple times the songwriting measures up to the concept, Cartel are exhilarating. "Say Anything" kicks the album off with a blast of melody. "Luckie St." employs a hardcore, doubletime beat and adrenaline-pumping guitars. In both cases, the verses are just an excuse to get to the choruses, which feel like cold air rushing past your face while you're cruising around with friends on a do-nothing night. Actually, that's exactly what "Luckie St." is about.

Too much of Chroma gets tangled up in those chugging guitar lines and bogged down in undistinguished choruses. You have to have a couple punk rock ballads on your album these days, and both of them here are lame. Some late-going tries at unorthodox production touches -- cannonfire drums and sweeping acoustic guitar on "The Minstrel's Prayer" and a pseudo-techno coda on "A" -- are commendable but ineffective. Just 'cause Green Day's writing multi-part song-suites doesn't mean everyone has to.

The highlights of Chroma suggest that Cartel might yet have a consequential album in them. They just need some different reading material.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.