Back in 2010, Chad Valley (aka: side-project of Hugo Manuel from Oxford-based, Jonquil) impressed many with the lush, tropical chill-wave sounds of his debut self-titled EP and added more to the pot of excitement surrounding local indie-pop 6-piece, Jonquil. The summery, Ibiza come-down feel of his debut has been extended to some degree in his new release, but Mr Manuel has also pushed the beach-worn boat out and experimented with plenty of new themes and sounds in his stunning new record.
We are firstly confronted with the chilling, fairground organ tune ‘Now That I’m Real’, which loops over effect-laden vocals before an acute keyboard melody turns the song into an instant-hit. The steel drums and female vocals nicely transpose us to the tropical recesses of Chad Valley’s first EP, but this is a maturer sound. It is true to say that it is more upfront pop song than the minimalist progression of ‘Up And Down’ (a song that I grew to love last year on his first EP) and some may dislike this more mainstream sound, but credit must be given to Manuel’s sharp deliverance of an immediately-catchy melody.
‘Acker Bilk’ and ‘Reach Lines’ are the breeziest songs on the record, with impossibly relaxed beats; the latter providing the sexiest bass-line and ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ you will hear all summer. Sometimes the vocal sound-effects on ‘Reach Lines’ are a little overdone, but this is presumably to maintain variety and to prevent Manuel’s vocals from fading too much into the background. ‘Acker Bilk’ promotes beautifully wholesome harmonies and Manuel’s falsetto notes soar above mountains like a Celtic warrior’s. This really is a stand-out track for him vocally. What sounds like a Hip-Hop sample kick-starts a firm tune accompanied with star-dusted synths, but like the previous track, ‘Fast Challenges’, it is not as intelligently layered as the other songs.
Manuel adequately bridges the gap between the conspicuous summer sounds of the first tracks, and the more reserved sounds of the later tracks, with ‘Shell Suite’. A charming, brittle guitar riff distinguishes this song from the rest and nestles its head between harmonious synths and warm piano notes. He also carefully constructs the cross-fades, vocal repetitions, crescendos and breakdowns to allow this song to burst open into the most solid and beautiful track on the record.
Hot tribal dance beats finally pulsate throughout the EP’s closer, ‘Shapeless’, to sandwich Chad Valley’s trademark tropical chill-wave over the top of the new sounds found in ‘Shell Suite’ and ‘Acker Bike’. Criminally, it is too short, but leaves the EP on a breathtaking high.
Published for the Oxford Music Blog on 9th July 2011*
*You can read the original here: http://www.oxfordmusicblog.co.uk/2011/07/chad-valley-equatorial-ultravox-review/