For Fans Of
“Progressive Instrumental Chill”.
That’s the wanky genre that I’m putting San Diego’s Chon under with their gorgeous sounding new record, ‘Homey’. Acting as the much-anticipated follow-up to 2015’s ‘Grow‘, ‘Homey‘ is indeed another jazzy, math-rock release, but there are also some stark differences to be discovered here.
Before those differences become apparent, though, let’s talk about the returning familiarities. Firstly, Chon’s tight musicianship, warm sonic aesthetic, odd-time prog-drumming and rhythms, bright song timbres, string-skipping runs, and their utterly beautiful chord voicing and guitar melodies all return here. Much like their debut, Chon still exist at that often hard to nail mid-point of progressive music. The trio of guitarists Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel and drummer Nathan Camarena comfortably land a sound that your everyday listener could easily digest and appreciate while also delivering intricate, technical moments that clued-in musicians and guitar enthusiasts can muse over for days. And you see all of this displayed in fine fashion with this 12-track record’s first pair of wonderfully lush, engaging songs – ‘Sleepy Tea‘ and ‘Waterslide‘.
At this early point in the record, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Chon was merely running a familiar victory lap for older fans and newcomers alike. Yet remember how I mentioned that ‘Homey‘ is both similar and different from ‘Grow‘? Well, as many fans will know of the trio, these three dudes aren’t just lovers of prog and instrumental music – they love many other styles. As such, this album sees more varying influences and sounds – mostly electronic – used than their debut. However, they’re not for the better, sadly.
After the aforementioned opening two tracks, Chon’s game changes drastically. They ditch the real drums and the involving guitar interplay and suddenly merge Chainsmokers-like effects, synths, programmed drums and chopped up and pitch-shifted vocals, with not even half the amount of guitar work you’d normally get from the band. The first time we see all of this occur is on the third song, ‘Berry Streets‘, which features fellow Cali beat maker and guitarist, GoYama; creating a sound that’s more akin to that guitarist’s 2015 release, ‘Vintage Soul‘, than anything that’s actually related to Chon.
Right after this surprising electro-fueled pop lull, the band return to their normal foray with the powerful, drum-driven nature of ‘No Signal‘ and the chill, summery reverie-done-right of ‘Checkpoint‘; one of the stronger compositions to be had on ‘Homey‘ by the way. Yet not one song later and we’re right fucking back to the swelling Chainsmokers synths and filters in ‘Nayhoo‘ (all courtesy of producer Lophiile), with poppy vocal melodies and a hint of mumble-rap from Masego, that has about as weak an effect as would a guest singer on your typical rap or pop album.
This is the pattern that ‘Homey‘ follows for the rest of its runtime; melodic, interesting instrumental soundscapes being annoyingly divvied up by these chillwave songs that only feature mere hints of the band’s original sound being present, with the guitars taking a back seat while pop hacks jump into the driver’s seat. Too bad that car is driving dangerously close to the edge of a fucking cliff. You also see this later on with the laughable ‘Feel This Way‘ – the cheesy Disney-like song that you hear playing at the start of the ‘Waterslide‘ film clip – and ‘Glitch‘, which to be fair, is easily the least egregious affair of the lot.
My main problem with these four songs is that while they do provide ‘Homey‘ with a sense of variation and while they do break up the record’s flow (in not the best way, though), they take the “Chon” out of this new Chon record. Moreover, songs like ‘Feel This Way‘ and ‘Nayhoo‘ aren’t why I listen to Chon’s music and I know that I’m far from the only one who thinks – songs like ‘Splash‘, ‘Story”, ‘Continue?‘, ‘Sleepy Tea‘ is! And while album closer ‘Wave Bounce‘ – further driving home this album’s Californian summer vibe and tone – does offer a final hoorah of what Chon does best musically, it’s undermined by the “experimental” songs encountered before it. But hey, eight out of twelve isn’t all bad.
Look, you can take the Chon out of the vibes but you can’t take the vibes out of the Chon with ‘Homey’. Even if a couple of these songs are incredibly ill-conceived.
1. Sleepy Tea
3. Berry Streets
4. No Signal
7. Here And There
8. The Space
9. Feel This Way
12. Wave Bounce
‘Homey’ is out now via Sumerian Records. You can buy it here. And yeah, look, this is still one of the best sessions you’ll find in the Audiotree archives: