Chalk And Numbers
Things You Do
Brooklyn indie duo have some similar shades to a well-known current U.S. boy-girl duo; yet supersede them with their glorious sounds of the '60s.
Things You Do is available at:
The E.P. Parade is available at:
TODAY there are a few things that have come to mind, when focusing...
on boy-girl duo Chalk And Numbers. The first point concerns the compositional nature of bands. For a start: duos are a rarity in any era. If you look back as far back as the '50s, bands have always consisted of four or more people. Throughout the '80s and '90s two-pieces become a little more common; yet it seems that there is still a reticence amongst new musicians to pile as many members into the pack as possible. I guess if your music is on the 'heavier' side of things: heavy rock, Grunge, even indie, then you may well need extra hands in order to elicit the sounds that you require- although this is not always the case. If one were to study the like of The White Stripes, a Detroit-based blues rock duo; it was without extraneous bodies and input that they managed to bring their explosive and incredible sounds to the world. You have to wonder, given the groups that have followed: were they a rare exception? There is still an over-reliance on the four or five-piece construct, and because of that, the associative sounds tend to be packed and dense. On the flipside, solo acts may have potential and a true talent, yet their palette may be too sparse or inactivating. Duos are a pleasing compromise, where you have the potential for bigger sounds and ideas, yet there are no so many members that you fill compelled to pack songs with too much; simultaneously ensuring that there is focus to the music. I hope that the problem of bands being too restrictive and predictable, is something that lessens in the next few years; as it is when you think differently and are not beholding to unwritten band laws- concerning the number of members in the band- that some wonderful results are presented. It is something I will return to, but for now, there is another point worth raising: U.S. music. For those of us in the U.K., there is a slight famine taking place. We here are raised on a rather stodgy staple diet of home-grown flavours and foods: bands and solo acts that have their hearts in the U.K. (even if their sounds have foreign influences). Occasionally, if you are lucky enough; you may happen across a new act that emanates from a warmer climate or fascinating landscape. Over the past months I have featured sounds from Europe (particularly Sweden); Australia, and EIRE; yet it is the acts from the U.S. whom have given me the most food for thought. Historically, they have always been the main rival to Britain, with regards to the all-time best music. As much as they have given us some of the greatest legends, their new music is also producing some potential future-greats. Whether it is the fickleness of the media, or the weakened ties that bind social and music media; it is uncertain. One thing is clear, mind: us in the U.K. are missing out. I have bemoaned the nature of finding great new music; how you seem to stumble across these acts by serendipity- rather than having them brought to your attention. Later on I shall go into more depth about the good ol' U.S.A., but the final point concerns the 1960s. Having born some of the greatest ever acts such as Bob Dylan and The Beatles, it is a decade that is talked in admiring tones; yet when it comes to reinterpreting and representing the sounds of that era, few music acts seem to be doing it. Where as here we have the likes of The Strypes, whom have a certain air of 1963-era The Beatles to them, there are not that many others that are attempting the same kind of sound. Whereas originality is a key pillar, and it is essential to dissociate yourself with any obvious references, the '60s was a decade that created psychedelia; power pop and swathes of diverse sounds- that have stood the test of time. I hear a lot of groups and acts whom employ '60s threads in their music, yet they seem to do so wistfully and infrequently- scared almost at being too heavy-handed and unoriginal. To my mind the '90s was responsible for the best and most diverse music ever: a decade that was awash with polemic sounds, and some of the best music of the modern era. The '60s is a close second, and neither decade (really) is re-appropraited and re-examined by modern-day artists. It is pleasing when an act comes along, whom seem to understand these themes I have raised.
The first thing one should say about Chalk and Numbers, is that they have some D.N.A. in common (I think) with a fellow U.S. act: She and Him. Chalk And Numbers has a tall and cool-dressed, sharp male influence, and a gorgeous and sweet-voiced female member. The two duos each have a fond affection for the melodies, potency and majesty of the '60s; and both too have a stellar reputation when it comes to their songs and presentation. The Zooey Deschanel-led duo have been making albums for a number of years, and have built their name around the pillars of strong song writing, a powerful chemistry as well as a consistency that seems unerring. The 33-year-old Deschanel is a songwriter whom employs the majesties and influences from the 1960s, and updates the sound for a modern age; wrapping her dulcet tones around the songs, backed and augmented by the guitar work and production of M. Ward. It is perhaps ironic, then, that my featured duo are Chalk And Numbers, and not chalk and cheese; as numerical similarities are not the only things the two partnerships have in common. Where as She and Him hail from Oregon: a state in the north-west of the U.S.A., with Portland being seen as the most environmentally-sound and beautiful parts of America (Portland is referred to as 'Rose City'). That state is built around busy and modernised city-scapes: sleek towers and business-filled skyscrapers, mingle alongside beautiful towns and pleasant and verdant mountains. Our Chalk And Numbers duo hail from Brooklyn; perhaps not the most obvious destination one would assume the two-piece to hail from. For an act whom project gorgeous '60s styling. Brooklyn is the most populous of New York's five boroughs (above Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island). It is a tight-packed and multi-ethnic community that stands by its motto: "In Unity There Is Strength". For those of us whose only exposure to New York comes about from watching CSI: NY, Friends, and U.S. television, there may be an assumption that Brooklyn has a threatening or uncertain air about it. The population is largely white or black (42.8% for the former; 34.3% the latter, as of 2010's census figures). There is a large Asian population too, and the communities of Brooklyn are very loyal and centralised: a majority of those employed work within the borough. Brooklyn contains Coney Island, the Botanic Garden; Soldiers' Arch and Park Slope also live here. Inside of the diverse neighbourhoods; from the large Russian population, through to Chinatown and a gentrification that sees a large Jewish and Pakistani community cohabitating with a large immigrant sector; it is a borough that is the definition of unified. It should hardly be a shock that a decade where community and harmony were bywords, that it should inspire '60s influences in Chalk And Numbers. Tall, bespeckled and dashing Andrew Pierce is our hero; gorgeous and mellifluous-voiced Sable Yong. The duo have a fond affection for one another, that comes across in the music. The duo also have a passion for some of the 1960s/'70s greats. Dusty Springfield, The Zombies and The Beach Boys are idols of the duo; and these influences can be detected in their Parade E.P. Their song writing is sharp and filled with vivid imagery. Where as contemporaries such as Lana Del Rey present too much of the girl-meets-boy-removes-red-dress-rides-in-a-fast-casr-needs-to-get-money-fast-because-here-lies-a-broken-girl themes; rock bands of New York tend to be too vague and generic with their ideas; it is perhaps Californian influences that come to mind. Bands around Burbank, Pasadena and Los Angeles are more adept at portraying True Purple shades; peaceful and uplifting sounds and a cohesive and focused coda. Songs on the E.P. such as Boy, Pretty Colors (sic.) and So Much For The Bay are part of a 5-track odyssey that marries the Flower Power drips of the 1960s, and galvanises it with a fusing of modernity and sleekness. It is perhaps apt that the duo's work has been dubbed "timeless" by Filter; "dollop of wonderfulness" by The Guardian (whom actually manage to get it right for once); and "Delicious" by Irish Times. Our intrepid heroes spare little time cheapening their social media sites with needless backstory and too much biography. They are a duo not content with being seen as 'throwaway': keeping their websites tight and fascinating, and letting the tunes shout the loudest. As I drank in the praise that the two have levied, and took the flower out of my (male) hair, I span Things You Do.
This track is the swansong of the E.P., and is the shortest track as well (clocking in at 2:38). The duo believe in uniformity: many of their photos see them in black-and-white/black-and-red clothes- usually striped-and they have a chic-geek-cum-effortless cool vibe about their style and designs. This sense of consecution as well as free will is evident immediately. Things You Do builds on a foundation of flourishing and delicious electric strings. It is part debut album-era The Beatles, with hints of psychedelic-era bands such as Strawberry Alarm Clock. The guitar sways and strikes harp-like, backed by a propulsive and measured percussion. It sounds like it could soundtrack a kooky indie film; as well as having hallmarks of a epic undertones: a potential Bond theme perhaps? It is a brief intro. that elicits so much grin and smile, with no strum und drang. There is a razor-sharp modernity and sleekness to the sound, yet it is bubbling with classic '60s touches and sounds. Our heroine Yong has a voice that contains a little of Deschanel's harder edges; yet has some influence of 1962 Carole King and a dollop of girl groups of the 1960s like The Shangri-Las. Our heroine has a great way with words. Lines are not overtly-linear: some are delivered swooping and syncopated; some straight-laced and punchy. It is a facet and calling card that bring vividly to life the lyric's themes. Early evocations about tug-of-wars within love are highlighted. An unnamed paramour is treating love like a game; it is not one "Although you try to play". The words are given consideration and almost onomatopoeic regard (when the line "Consuqneces that tumble on through" is sung, the word 'tumble' is tumbled from Yong's tongue). The guitar work is striking throughout. Signs of Hank Marvin's almost Wild West twangs are fused into the mix: always light and evocative; yet never impinging or imposing in any way. Likewise, the percussion is considerate as well as bolstering: it keeps the pace and energy very much alive, yet never creeps too far high in the mix. With there just being one female voice, it is quite stunning that the evocativeness and chorus of a full group is presented. As much as our heroine elevates lines such as "You can wonder what it means to you" higher than any other singer would; it is Pierce's words that are equal partners in the success story. He can mix lighter and feather-light kisses with more cynical and forbidding lines: "You can poison all the others around". Where as the themes and mandates talk of love-gone-wrong, with a side order of nerve-shredding mystery, the music does something quite extraordinary. Where as most writers and musicians would tie some shadowed words with similar sonic evocations, Pierce is a master of the '60s girl group pop-cum-psychedelic edges; managing to evoke elements of The Shadows, as well as The Zombies. It is this positive Henry Mancini-esque ability to shift and integrate different style into a cohesive whole, that adds clout to Yong's silky tones. It is perhaps the chorus that strikes the hardest chord; having an infectious bounce to it, with our heroine wrapping her tongue around the words, around the music: like an intoxicating slinky-Matryoshka doll hybrid. It is the byplay and affection between the two players that adds an additional layer of quality to the song. It is a kinship that has an asexuality: they have the byplay of siblings almost, that adds authority to their sweet-sounding protestations. If one thinks that the emotional and gender transposition of The White Stripes is the key facet that 'makes' the song: think again. At the 1:26 mark, electric guitar is deployed to slither and snake; twisting and twanging with abandon and adding an extra smile to the lips. The guitar ramps and swoon; as the rattling percussion gallops behind. It spends its time creating as much atmosphere as possible, before Yong returns with words of "Don't you know it's true". An intent and repeated chorus of "Think about the things you do" is unleashed, making the anonymous beau take note, and learn from his (many) mistakes. In spite of the song talking of a man-done-wrong parable, there is an innocence at its core. There is no sense of vengeance or bile-filled lines; no cussing or feuding- very much contained of '60s peace; but with an instructional message throughout. The chorus is spoken once more before the end, with it being said that all the things that (the man) has done wrong: "They'll catch up with you in time".
Things You Do, as well as the Parade E.P., are notable due to the utilitarian and borderless appeal of their sounds. Whether your patronage is focused towards dub-step or county, there is something for everyone within the songs. As much as I have belittled bands for not being considerate when it comes to unifying clans of music lovers: trying to get them out of this culture of compartmentalisation; it is refreshing that the Brooklyn duo are making waves in this regard. Each of their E.P.s five tracks are chocked with influences of classic 1960s song writing. The duo have said that they record everything in analog and use lo-fi equipment and technique to get an authentic feel to their music. The songs sound like they could have been recorded in Toe Rag Studios (in Hackney). The White Stripes recorded Elephant there, and that record is a testament to the benefits of recording music that is not beholden to studio trickery and too much polish and gleam. Where as Oregon's She and Him produce records that sound a little too modern-sounding (in terms of the polish and shine that each song is given), Chalk And Numbers revert to past decades, yet never regress. The song writing and ambition is as much 2013, as it is 1963. It is well worth seeking them out- the music is free after all! As much as I have carped on about the '60s: the girl groups, the legends etc., the music on display only hints at the nature of these components, yet never appropriates them strongly. Originality, freshness and the idea of a unique voice enforces the music: influences are incorporated in order to variegate the songs. Song influences range from umbrellas, through to doomed romance. Pierce manages to vary his themes, and the fact that sunshine pop and country-tinged sound line up alongside moodier and more insular numbers, is a testament to his talents as a songwriter, musician, and producer (Dennis Pierce co-produced). Yong is a modern pin-up, with girl-next-door beauty and sex appeal, and a voice that has a girlish charm as well as seductive sense of foreplay to it: at once the voice is come-hither; the next coquettish. A great deal of ground is covered over 5 tracks, and one can tell that a lot of work and effort has been put in, as the E.P. is boundless in its energy, creativity and ambition. The way that Pierce and Yong combine gives the tracks their gold stars. Clear affection and understanding negates and invigorates the mood, and gives the already-terrific songs an extra cherry on top. I hope they can get over to London very soon, as the U.K. (as well as Europe and Australia) will welcome them with open arms and a long-term fan base. They have 712 'likes' on Facebook, and 139 followers on Twitter. With the likes of pop cretin Justin Bieber amassing millions of credulous- and one assumes deaf- fans, it is a crying outrage that our New York twosome have a comparatively-meagre base. I suspect there is a predominant-U.S. core to the current audience, but they should fear not. Parade is a confident E.P. that is universal in its appeal, and will win them a lot, lot more followers and lovers. It will be great to see what they do next: another E.P.; an album; a worldwide tour maybe? They are playing a lot of U.S. dates, and there will be venues such as The Roundhouse and Electric Ballroom (both in Camden) that would be packed to the rafters. With the likes of The Guardian paying homage to their wonders, it shouldn't (I hope) be long before the intoxicating aromas, make their way from the East Coast; and waft to the U.K./France/Western Europe; across to Italy and most of Europe, and emanates into Asia and Australia (as well as Africa). It is because the songs are so strong that they will not have barriers when it comes to finding fans and venues willing to take them on board; so Chalk And Numbers:
WHAT do you say?