The Chapters – Blood Feels Warm (Loosewindscreen Records)
Irish band conjure an authentic Americana sound on the follow up to their much praised debut. The resulting ‘Blood Feels Warm’is a mature and confident album that surpasses their previous offering.
Dublin based band the Chapters released their accessible radio friendly debut ‘Perfect Strangers’ to a warm critical and public response; they played and toured heavily, supporting some big acts when they came to town. This established them as a solid act, with a proficiency that was lacking in some of their peers. But in a climate of guitar, bass and drums pop dominance, there was little to separate them from the crowd, that all changes with the release of their new album.
From the outset the band looked as if they were on a solid path. It now seems that the track they were on wasn’t wholly their own, but a direction they were at least in part pushed on by their record company, the young band feeling obliged to follow. Eventually both label 3U and band became dissatisfied and parted ways.
In the intervening years, and on sessions for their follow up album, the band sound evolved to a point where they thought about changing their name. This was in part due to a reshuffling of members, two departed, three originals remain, but was also indicative of a growing maturity. It was the correct decision not to change name, why forgo the work done over the previous years. If this is how they have developed, better to retain the name, and bring their fans along for the ride.
The title track on their crowd funded sophomore release ‘Blood Feels Warm’ is an expressive vocal and soft organ lead opener, introducing pedal steel to the band’s sound by way of N.C. Lawlor. Harp, and other strings are also carefully placed to create a wonderful layered groove guided by McNally’s soulful voice and Michael Murphy’s pulsating bass line. Often compared to Paul Buchannan or Elbow’s Guy Garvey, McNally is more relaxed and upbeat than the former and not as concerned about laboured majesty as the latter.
The band have eased into their new direction and sound as if they are reveling in the freedom of being masters of their own destiny. There is nothing superfluous, every soft percussive tip or stringed nuance serves a purpose, they absorb a varied Americana influence, but it never sounds like pastiche. Injections of guitar, harp or pedal steel appear, disintegrate into the song, and reappear more pronounced again later. This measured construction around the arrangements facilitates their unique sound, and it persists throughout.
It’s highlighted on standout tracks such as ‘Two Good Reasons’, which has serious potential for mass airplay and ‘Bees in a Jar’ with its atmospheric tweeting birds and lush male/female harmonising, which surface again on the timeless ‘Red Rooster’ courtesy of guest vocalist Aoife Ruth. ’Out on the Harbour’ again demonstrate the full range of McNally’s wonderful soulful and emotive voice, ‘Harbour’ and ‘Arcade of the Scribes’, made available some months before the album’s release utilise the sea as lyrical metaphor, old men on riverboats may indicate the weariness of their first few years, however, it’s not morose, but subtly uplifting, ‘…without the river there would be no love.’
Later ‘Jaded Stoic’ enthrals with understated beauty and an impossible to resist melody, ‘Right from the Start’ is a lush experimental rapturous heavy jam and album closer ‘The Great Pretender’ is all pure raw emotion.
The old music model of band rehearsing, playing live, finding a deal and having a record company throw their oar in until the band becomes a diluted variation of before is in fast decline. In this new climate, there are less and less of the older barriers to releasing music, bands are in a position to easily deliver albums without the hurdles placed by a labels of yore. Of course, they are now faced with the problem of convincing people to “buy” it, crowd funding seems to offer a solution to that and with the release of their second album the Chapters have proved band knows best.
‘Blood Feels Warm’ sets The Chapters apart from their Indie Pop rock contemporaries, and sees them embrace a more learned style, with more considered songs and overall upping of their game. Gone is the artistic confusion from label intrusion, and what remains is a band with a clear direction, who are confident and comfortable infusing new stylistic elements and instrumentation into their tender and romantic songs about love and friendship. The perfect laid back, but thoughtful soundtrack for those summer evenings where the air and humidity render reflective thought.