It’s finally springtime. The winter was long and cold, but the ground has thawed, leaves are growing on the trees, and the birds are singing. This really only means one thing: It’s time-capsule season.
Yes, time capsules. What other activity brings together such disparate elements of society? An attempt to compile a collection of non-perishable goods that represents the present-day zeitgeist involves the young and old, the rich and poor, the detached and the ironically detached. And which indie-rock album should we include to sum up the current state of indie rock? It’s a tough one, but I humbly suggest it be Hugs, the debut from Boston’s Chas. Mtn. (What? You were going to choose the Arctic Monkeys?)
Hugs is the work of Gary War and Ned Egg, and it serves as a comprehensive overview of the “freak-folk” sound that has defined many of underground rock music’s most popular acts. Shambolic, druggy jams? Check. Restrained, melodic fingerpicked guitar work? Check. Amps-to-eleven speed-freak blowouts? Check. Hugs is a diverse record, equal parts No-Neck Blues Band, Jack Rose, Animal Collective and Comets on Fire.
Hugs is put together in an almost collage-like fashion, similar to early Beck albums such as Golden Feelings and Stereopathetic Soul Manure. Songs fade in and fade out, often cutting out abruptly. That the duo records straight to four-track is readily apparent: Hugs is filled with background hiss and incidental noise. These elements often lend the record a spontaneous charm, but I can’t help but feel that Hugs is a rough draft as opposed to a finished product, a demo tape put together in the hopes that someone influential in the scene might get a hold of it. That Hugs has transcended such status is a testament to Chas. Mtn.’s talent — and to the fact that War and Egg are fucking lucky.
Given that they explore the nooks and crannies of a faddishly popular subgenre, the members could certainly be called opportunistic trend-followers. (The band tries to fight such accusations by claiming gangster rap, dub and punk as influences, but Hugs sounds nothing like these genres.) Opportunistic or not, Hugs has some real good songs. That justifies a lot, obviously. “Deep Safety,” an urgent hand-clapping sing-along, channels the Incredible String Band. “Mothure” is a gorgeous lullaby. “Salad of Flies” is a relatively straight-ahead rocker that threatens to career off the tracks at any moment. “Headstripe Bitches” is over-the-top rock chaos that nearly reaches Acid Mothers Temple proportions.
And on and on and on it goes. I got tired of listing examples.
The bottom line: With Hugs, Chas. Mtn. has provided a sampler of sorts, an album-length compendium of the sounds and styles of early twenty-first-century underground rock music. Which makes this record perfect for our time capsule. Now get out the shovel and start digging.
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