Chrash: The Party

Justin Cober-Lake


The Party

Label: Future Appletree
US Release Date: 2003-11-27

Unfortunately, Chrash makes good music. The lyrics are crap-clever and the band members seem to be obsessed with a dildo microphone, but The Party has the hooks to make a listen worthwhile. If you're put off by a band named Chrash titling its debut album The Party, you'll probably be too turned off by the lyrical content. On the other hand, people who can ignore the words or don't really enjoy English might find this CD worth a go.

Chrash is essentially the brain-child (if such a term is appropriate) of Chris Bernat, who's currently going by the name Christian Burnout. The singer/guitarist doesn't claim any political motivation to his word-play moniker, and that attitude sums up the throwaway feel of his songwriting, too. "Kids with Swords", for example, contains the clause "proctors gamble". The line puns on the company name, but it doesn't mean anything except that Bernat enjoys empty word-play. At least "Springbored Break" explores the feelings of a dull vacation. The phrase still sounds too cutesy, but at least it has some meaning, unlike much of the album. Chrash nods to quirky college-rock and nerd-rock bands with these types of lyrics, but it's hard to imagine anyone other than Bernat actually enjoying the verbal games.

Musically, though, Chrash provides idiosyncratic sounds that remain accessible and go somewhere. Bernat and the uncountable members of the group seem to have listened to as many types of rock from the past 40 years as they could, including psychedelia, California pop, prog rock, and dream pop. Over the 11 tracks of The Party, Chrash merges these sounds effortlessly, melding tasteful lead guitar work with subtle keys and catchy vocal lines. For a bonus, we get some nice banjo and viola work, too. It's almost possible to be lulled by the tunes, but every now and then a bit of rock punch comes through to move you. On the downside, you might get moved away by the occasional out-of-tune vocals (such as the dreadful harmony on the otherwise appealing "Bridge Work Ahead").

Chrash's cheeky attitude sometimes leads to wonderful songs, lyrical content included. On "To the Person with Too Much Perfume", Bernat takes out his sing-along aggression on those nasal-knocking people we've all had to deal with. When Bernat is actually interested in saying something and not just amusing himself, he can write smart songs. Chrash turns an apparently lighthearted song around through smart song construction. "To the Person with Too Much Perfume" begins with a bit of a screed against the over-cologned, but midway through Bernat reveals the real problem: "That reminds me of someone I once knew / And I don't want to think of them no more". When he sings about needing a "breath of fresh air", you realize that it's an emotional response and not a physical one. He explains, "A little goes a long way / That's why the package is so small". This time the singer's disgust carries weight because we've caught a glimpse of his underlying motivations. Bernat turns his comedic instincts to a classical use: using humor to reveal and to talk around a serious subject. Here, he succeeds; it's when he sounds like a neglected class clown that he fails so miserably.

The bonus video interview sums up the problem nicely. The video, rather than giving us real insight into Chrash, simply contains a two-and-a-half minute conversation in which Bernat explains his reasons for wearing 3-D glasses all the time. It's almost funny -- as when he tells the interviewer that it's "not his doctor, just an optometrist ... that I was seeing" -- but mostly it's revealed as the vanity project it is. This attitude might get Bernat chicks after coffeehouse shows, but it doesn't help his music.

On "My Future Predictions", Bernat sings, "Success will be funny". He might be right, and I hope he continues to be amused, but he should put the funny behind him a little bit if he wants to find some success. Chrash has the musical chops and the songwriting ability, but The Party is just too irritating to be engaging. The band's central movement is one of deflection, and that's not really an attitude worthy of a commitment.

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