CHON Continue Their Intricate Yet Inviting Instrumental Excellence on Self-Titled Third LP
Fans CHON's previous work—as well as instrumental rock in a broader sense—will surely find plenty to enjoy about Chon. Just don't expect anything especially diverse or daring along the way.
7 June 2019
Having toured with monumental acts like Circa Survive and Coheed and Cambria in the midst of supporting their first two well-received LPs, Californian quartet CHON currently stand as one of the biggest names in instrumental progressive/math rock. Comprised of drummer Nathan Camarena, bassist Esiah Camarena, and guitarists Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel, their breezy blend of interlocking guitar patterns and dynamically innovative rhythms is always captivating (if also monotonous and formulaic overall). For better or worse, their new self-titled outing is no exception. Arguably even calmer and more soothing than its predecessors, Chon is another richly intricate yet inviting collection that fits the summer season. (Just don't be surprised if it starts to feel repetitious before long.)
Appropriately, opener "Ghost" establishes the vibe of Chon well and ranks as one of its top pieces. Following an introductory portion of steady beats and entwined six-string embroideries, feisty syncopation gives way to panicked yet playful guitar lines over soft strums and bass lines. It's an arresting combination, for sure, and fortunately, subsequent tracks like "Cloudy", "Gift", and closer "Peace" uphold that aesthetic alongside a bit more electronic manipulation and spirited movement from Esiah Camarena. Oddly enough, those imaginative syntheses conjure environments both earthly and otherworldly, which is consistently enticing.
Elsewhere, CHON infuse the LP with more vigor and variety. For instance, "Petal" is simultaneously inspiring and remorseful by juxtaposing clean arpeggios and chords with piercing guitar taps, challenging percussion, and gruff riffs. Afterward, "Pitch Dark" bookends its mellow middle with a touch of tape hiss and some truly haunting acoustic guitar constructions; as such, it's a great exercise in conflicting attitudes and techniques. From there, "Rosewood" is faintly mesmerizing and hyperactive as it ventures toward its final warm settlement of restrained instrumentation beneath a crackling fire.
That stillness makes the initial bursts of follow-up "If" more impactful, and luckily, it sustains that edge until it, like "Rosewood", concludes with natural sounds and subdued playing. As for "Spike" and "Dead Ends", they act as a one-two punch of alternating moods (frenzied picking and syncopation vs. easygoing percussion and welcomingly serene guitarwork). The penultimate "Thanks" is likely among the most technical transcriptions of the set, with highly temperamental rhythmic shifts guiding the guitarists' myriad changes (which include a nice splash of acoustic nostalgia in-between their electric exuberances). It's quite invigorating.
Taken on its own, each composition on Chon is well worth its weight; however, and as is often the case with albums like this, they begin to feel too similar and benign when combined in sequence. In fact, it's even difficult to write about some of them because they lack sufficient individuality. Without a doubt, CHON have a generally winning method, but they rely on it a bit too closely and commonly to allow all 12 arrangements to stand on their own. Rather, they pen two or three templates and then slightly alter them three or four times each. While many acts in this vein can fall into that trap, it's abundantly pronounced and transparent here nonetheless.
Still, Chon deserves more favor than not due to its consistently impressive musicianship and adventurously balmy essence. The quartet undoubtedly continues to perfect their formula with this third full-length effort, and while that chemistry is limited in terms of scope and textures, it's still very pleasing in at least small doses. Fans of the quartet's previous work—as well as instrumental rock in a broader sense—will surely find plenty to enjoy about it. Just don't expect anything especially diverse or daring along the way.