Australian bedroom-pop outfit Chook Race put together a vibrant and hopeful breakthrough record.
At approximately the one-minute mark of “Hard to Clean”, the first song on Around the House, one can fairly confidently know exactly what’s in store for the album’s next 27 minutes. The band’s jangly guitar riffs and playful harmonies give the songs a lightness and a familiarity. It’s intentionally loose and rough around the edges as though these Melbourne rockers are just pals playing an impromptu set in someone’s basement. At times the semi-intentional sloppiness can feel tired or amateurish, but more often it presents as charming.
The group sticks pretty close to the same sound and form through most of the album building driving rhythms around Matthew Liveriadis’ guitar twang. Everything is loose and every single line is blurred almost beyond recognition. The dual vocals of Liveriadis and Carolyn Hawkins often don’t match up rhythmically, other times the mix is so unstable that the low-end gets buried in muddiness while the guitar flies above and bites hard. The description may not sound appealing, but the band makes it work. They have the pop sensibility of Belle and Sebastian’s sensitive jangle-pop and the casual playing style of Parquet Courts’ unpolished punk.
Chook Race’s songwriting is also quite simple most of the time. Some of Around the House’s best songs have one verse that Liveriadis and Hawkins repeat with varying levels of intensity. Take the album’s driving midpoint “At Your Door” for example. Liveriadis sings, “I’ll build a house out of wood and clay / The only tools you need to get away / With hands like magic I’ll turn that soil to crop / But in two short years I’ll receive a knock / At my door, at my door” and then repeats that sequence with a few very slight variations. It’s a track with great energy, a solid riff, and a lyrical story that’s simple but effective. The same is true of “Hard to Clean” and “Pictures of You”.
The album's major weak points mostly stem from the band getting too far down one rabbit hole or another. “Eggshells” is somehow off in a way that brings the mood down and the serious story of a damaged relationship adds to that feeling. With the bouncing lightness on the rest of the album, it’s just out of place and it takes to long to get back to where it started. And “Lost the Ghost”, which has some of the album’s best guitar riffs, finds the band repeating themselves a few too many times without adding anything new to the sound or the words.
At times these missteps feel like the trio is trying to change the tone at bad times or in ineffective ways. “Pink & Grey”, however, is a tone shift at the perfect moment and in a way that suits the band. The song drops the drums and instead focuses on a dynamic moving bass line and pleasant harmonies without going too long. They still play it fast and loose with the vocal deliveries, but the mood changes and allows the two singers to work together in a different and more complex way. From there the album is able to ramp back up to a climax and a satisfying resolution.
Around the House isn’t Chook Race’s true first album, but for all it’s casual production and fun nature, it does sound like a work made with the intention of being something that turns heads. For fans of the lo-fi jangly sound, Chook Race should fit right in, and even for those outside of that scene, the band has something to offer in the way of accessible, fast-paced music. All they ask is that you come for a good time and don’t take anything too seriously.