San Francisco's Chantigs have apparently been rocking it up for some time. Previous releases such as Up with the Chantigs found much favor amongst those who were looking for something fun and new that wasn't at all like what the other kids were playing. Not having heard those supposed fab previous releases, I can safely say that the Chantigs' latest escapade Four Hats is one crazy, fun, and rocked-out trip that at first glance might have you scratching your head, but upon a second listen will have you cutting a rug in no time flat.
Chantigs have been called everything from "experimental" to "psychedelic". If incorporating a banjo into a happy garage rock groove is "experimental" then so be it. But these guys know what they're doing. Four Hats isn't one of those oddball albums that finds a band doing every thing they can to be different. The Chantigs' sound is different, but in no way is it alienating or weird for weird's sake. There are tons of hooks and melodies to wrap your ears around here.
My first tip off that Four Hats was going to be cool was a glance at the stylized track listing on the back of the disc. It may or may not have been intentional, but the songs are printed in a font and run-together fashion that looks exactly like the one David Bowie incorporated on his Station To Station and Changesbowie compilations. And anyone who wants to mimic Bowie during his Thin White Duke phase has my attention. Of course, the actual music in another matter entirely.
Hearing the opening track, "Vicious Halo", with its shaky vocals might very well put one at a bit of unrest and cause he or she to quickly do a "Turn that off!" action, but if that happens, then all is lost. Really though, the track sounds a bit like The Small Faces when they were getting into their Ogden's Nut Gone Flake territory. Kind of fuzzy, kind of trippy.
But it's the second track, "Cables and Wires", where Four Hats takes off. Chantigs favor falsettos and vocal harmonies, and while some are quick to start comparing the group to the Beach Boys, I say they sound more like Frankie Valli gone super hip -- or at least Valli getting into some really good drugs. Hand claps, funky piano, do-do-do vocal hooks and a bit of a rhythmic strut all add up to some serious fun here. It's a damn fine summer sounding song with strange, enjoyable lines like "Cherry trees and diaries / Winter snow and autumn leaves" all adding to the blissed-out performance.
After that is the gleeful, spaced-out "Mt. Trashmore", with its delightfully loose as a goose guitar line that opens the song. The incorporation of the banjo into the background is cool as hell. Not since a certain recording I had of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue that also gave prominence to the instrument have I heard it used so well in a genre that wasn't country or bluegrass. Oh sure, Brian Wilson used the thing extensively during his experimental phase, but here it seems more of just a fun kind of thing. At first you don't even notice it, and then it pops right out at you. And who can get that great "Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma Mount Trashmore!" refrain out of their heads after hearing this one? Classic!
"Your Twinkling Eyes" features some great reverb guitar, garage rock organ, and grooved-out echo-drenched vocals that tend to recall some great '70s tracks like Argent's "Hold Your Head Up" or Gary Wright's "My Love Is Alive". And then there's the rollicking "Kinkle The Kid" that revisits that acid-washed Frankie Valli turf, complete with a really strange cheap sounding keyboard playing high notes coming out of the left channel during the verses. There's seriously so much stuff going on in these mixes that you'll be picking them apart with each listen.
"Me Me Me" sounds like New Wave '80s meets late '60s San Francisco (yes, the irony of Chantigs coming from Frisco is not lost on me), while "Concentric" goes straight for the retro grooviness in a full scale assault on everything considered to be hip in a Nuggets compilation. If there were "new" Nuggets, then Chantigs would be king of the hill every time. It's hard to argue with the odd country-ish funk junk of "Teeth of Day", the psychedelic "Movie Stars", and the bordering-on-disco "Frazzled Funtime" coming from one band that pulls off each genre exercise with ease.
Don't miss out on the Chantigs! If you have, then by all means head to Rodent Records and pick up Four Hats. There's a little something fun for everyone here. Bringing back a true "alternative" to whatever is left of that stale genre and playing their hearts out as if it were the end of the line, these guys make great music that is a blast to hear and play again and again and again. Four Hats is an indie rock masterpiece.