You may have heard already, but Charles Griffin Gibson’s CHUCK is back for one last go at this whole making music thing. We featured one song from his new album a little while back, and have now spent enough quality time with the record to know that such a swansong was justified. “I’m not made for the music biz,” Gibson admits. “I’m 30. I’m married. I have a full-time job. I just don’t have it in me anymore.” However, far from being some bitter farewell, CHUCK chooses to go out all guns blazing, his usual mixture of celebration of and objection to modern life, caught somewhere between laughing and crying. In other words, doing what CHUCK does best.

Opener ‘Stoner’ slowly builds into a Dan Deacon-style jam, all blips and whirs and echoing samples. Follow up ‘New Yorker’ on the other hand is much more akin to the songs on My Band is a Computer, a (semi) tongue-in-cheek track that’s about exactly what the title suggests. “When I graduated college,” Gibson begins, “I moved into the East Village, I got a job at a cool office, I got Billy Joel’s greatest hits.” It’s the perfect summation of what it means to eke out a living in the Big Apple, charting the rise from humble graduate to fully-fledged (and slightly obnoxious) New Yorker.

“I’m a New Yorker
get the hell out of my way now
and go die”

There’s a similarly self-deprecating vibe on ‘Cherry Tree’, the opening lines telling you all you need to know. “Waiting for the chance to come,” Gibson sings, “to piss up on a snowman, punch him in the lungs, feelin’ like a big fat no-one.” Like a lot of CHUCK songs, it’s not entirely serious, but somehow has an undercurrent of honesty and vulnerability, that second dimension common throughout his music that conjures a vague but crushing emptiness that’s always just out of view. This sensation is never mentioned outright, but colours every line of CHUCK’s writing, that half-formed conviction that all is not well with the way we live, that beneath the smiling and buying and reading of screens lies something sad and sinister. Or rather, lies nothing at all.

The psych pop instrumental ‘Hudson’ pairs acoustic guitar with some woozy electronics, feeling like a sunny morning stroll to shake off the night before. Beginning in wobbly doubly vision before clearing into a decidedly less cloudy perspective, the track is imbued with a certain mindfulness, one of those days where everything falls into place, feeling warm and bright, and more importantly you feel like you belong within its brilliance. ‘Oceans’ follows with a real Wish You Were Here! vibe, a song about heading to the beach to drink tecate and listen to the stereo, all the while missing a special someone. It’s a track infused with a sense of wistful frustration, a mellowed sunny-day reflection on imperfect circumstances.

“I went to the beach
with Alix and Charlie
we went swimming and talked about the party
you’re in Norway and I’m in my body
I use my phone to tell you I’m sorry”

The narrator on ‘Caroline’, a sort of reworked/updated love song, is obviously infatuated with the titular figure, despite the fact she’s cool and detached, “always saying she don’t care when I know she cares.” It’s a love song CHUCK style, the line between sardonic irony and heart-on-sleeve sincerity blurred beyond recognition.

Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store finds CHUCK doing what he does best, making songs that are catchy and funny and unashamedly “pop” and all undoubtedly good fun. But there’s always that something else to his songs too, something that’s harder to put a finger on, a nod to the vacuum at the centre of our 21st century consumerist culture. There’s no better example of this than ‘Happy Birthday’, which seems to sit in a pocket of stillness and apathy, Gibson’s vocals matter-of-fact and strangely sad, even when modulated with chipmunk-style effects. The narrator (be it Gibson or otherwise) sounds simultaneously arrogant and desperate, sad in more ways than one. He’s the person who turns up drunk and uninvited, begging for second chances and making a scene.

“I know I look insane
but I can’t get you outta my brain”

Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store is one of my favourite releases of the year so far and you can buy it now via Audio Antihero, including a nice-looking LP version.

photo of CHUCK Frankenstein Songs for the Grocery Store vinyl record