CHUCK is the recording project of Charles Griffin Gibson, a Massachusetts native based in New York who makes music that his bio describes as “a mix of the hopelessly optimistic and the just plain hopeless”. His latest release, My Band is a Computer, is a compilation of songs made between 2010 and 2015 and the culmination of a lot of musical endeavour. As Gibson explains:
“I started out in High School making electronic music on a Dell desktop PC in my family’s living room. It wasn’t great. Then my Mom bought me an acoustic guitar when I was 20 and at the time I was obsessed with the music documentary ‘Dig!’ so I started writing my own rip-off versions of the songs in that movie. Since then I’ve just used whatever I had around to keep writing and producing tracks”.
Not that Gibson ever intended to see his music released worldwide. We have the ever-excellent Audio Antihero to thank for that. “The resulting music has never really left my immediate bubble of friends, coworkers and loved ones” says Gibson, “but thanks to the internet, someone like Jamie at Audio Antihero was able to find my Bandcamp and have enough of a reaction that he wanted to help me reach an audience”.
Oh, and if you’re worried that the release is just a load of demos thrown together without much thought, think again. My Band… is as cohesive as any album you’ll hear this year, and sounds great thanks to mastering by our pal Benjamin Shaw. The record opens with ‘Happy New Years Babe’, a synth heavy track that illustrates CHUCK’s blend of insular bedroom pop and an altogether more hi-fi indie sound. Gibson’s vocals, along with the gauzy synths, convey a background level melancholy, the track sounding upbeat in spite of things, or maybe even out of spite.
“When you said those cruel words
On the steps of the church
You kicked me like the dirt
You stole my Pixies shirt
Well I’m back in town
Yeah I’m back in town”
‘Oceans’ is loose love song, the lines short and simple and jumbled by a detached inability to focus, like the thoughts of a mild Less Than Zero character who’s capable of genuine sorrow in ten second snatches between distraction. ‘Mary Anne’ has the guys from Frog as a backing band, another song about pining for an ex and being stranded on the rocks of casual relationships, while ‘Camel Lights’ is an acoustic track with a soft and almost nostalgic sense of regret (“Wide awake long after saying goodnight / Rememberin”). The presumably ironic ‘Bushwick Girl’ is about going out looking for a “sweetheart” and finding the titular Bushwick girl, who wears a neon orange beanie and pyjama pants, who has her rent paid by her parents and only buys things fair-trade.
“She surfed the internet for hours
Ask her a question she’s got the answer
She’s afraid of getting cancer
She’s my Bushwick girl”
‘Joan’ is a breezy and wordy indie pop track which references the coming of age (if you can call it that) of the title character, a girl who grows up with the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam war, and finds parties and boys and drugs, while ‘Go Into Town’ details the push and pull of mundane relationships and growing older. ‘Phoebe’s Lips’ again deals in messy big city relationships, this time framed with recollections of the simplicity of small-town teen trysts. But that’s a long way off for our narrator now, like something he saw on TV one time before he grew troubled and narcissistic. “Mikey can’t get hard,” Gibson sings, “Unless he goes too far / And says something really smart / That proves he’s smarter than you are”.
‘The Internet’ is a soft and delicate ode to the vast and bizarre realms of the World Wide Web, playing as a very well-written list of online oddities. Where else could you learn about MC Escher, sell your dad’s wedding ring and chat with girls who claim to be X-Men, all while in your underwear? The result is strange and oddly touching, the human essence captured in a thousand pathetic actions and pastimes, everyone naive and awfully lonely, staring through their screens in the impossible hope someone might be looking back.
‘Pictures’ sees life reduced to a tired loop, the same scenes playing over and over, the days not really going anyway but certainly running out, though following track ‘Death’, for all of its lines about cocaine binges and morbid thoughts, is surprisingly bright. It thuds and rings with a sense of hope and progress, like a mantra that serves as a timely reminder that things can get better.
“You hold on to whatever kin
that keeps on breathin’ in
that keeps you from driftin’
like paper in the wind”
The video adds to the dizzying transcendental feel of the song, a machine-gun rapid photographic collage of the million minute details of the city.
There are definite Frog vibes on penultimate track ‘Wipe Out’, a song about catching up with an old high school friend that’s full of the smart self-deprecation that makes lots of this album so great (“I’m scared about the Antarctic ice caps / but I stopped having panic attacks”), while finale ‘Let’s Make Out’ isn’t a love song as such, despite its dreamy vibes, detailing “relations” rather than relationships.
Playing like a collaboration between Owen Ashworth and Bret Easton Ellis, the CHUCK brand of observant and at times cringe-inducingly honest indie pop will no doubt prove divisive. But there’s far more to My Band is a Computer than drugs and self-pity and empty sex. Like the Frog release that Audio Antihero brought us last year, it crams an awful lot into its run-time, covering everything that’s terrible and everything that’s not about being a young adult in the twenty-first century, somehow managing to tap into the human kernel at the centre of our zombified lurch of nostalgia and regret.
My Band is a Computer is the first release on Old Money Records, a sub-label/imprint of Audio Antihero which “will be focused on archiving and celebrating lesser heard artists via compilations and reissues”. You can buy it now from the CHUCK / Audio Antihero Bandcamp page, including a rather lovely cassette edition.