Album Review: Chalk – How To Become A Recluse

Few of the records to have graced the pages of Already Heard this year can lay claim to being anywhere near as difficult to pin down, or as unapologetically cheer draining as ‘How To Become A Recluse’, the debut album from Brighton singer songwriter Chalk.

That one man has managed to create such a sprawling, meandering but utterly stark and desolate array of varied musical sounds is quite an achievement. There’s certainly no denying that from the outset the album is effecting and weirdly mesmerising. Even if it’s rarely a fun listen. Proceedings start with an erratically strummed out of tune acoustic guitar before scuzzy insistent electric guitars kick in, and a mumbled vocal floats on top on cheerfully titled opener ‘Emptiness’. And this proves to be just a perplexing hint of what is to follow.

It soon becomes clear that Chalk seems at his most natural on the dark downtrodden acoustic numbers like ‘A Withered Collapse Of A Cleaned Out Character’, showing off some nimble finger picking skills as he works his way around a series of distinctly minor chord driven numbers. Indeed much of the record is dominated by such songs, as Chalk shows a gift for crafting poetic snapshots of the drudgery of modern life. His lyrics capturing a broken, haunted world view that nevertheless isn’t without its beauty. ‘Slept With A Knife’ despite showing Chalk can create some expansive musical arrangements, is so steeped in misery that it’s enough to put the listener off of wanting to have any kind of human relationship again.

A definite highlight is ‘Everyones Problem, No Ones Problem’ a compartively chipper indie-grunge number that is like a lurching mish-mash of one man trying to capture the most redeeming features of Babyshambles and The Wombats at the same time, and slightly losing his mind in the process.

Later there’s a distinctly Brand New type feel about the slightly off key fuzzy musings of ‘A Song For a Friend’ that somehow manages to be musically grating yet compelling and resonating with a down trodden charm.

Sadly that’s about as high as things get both emotionally and from a quality standpoint. ‘I Don’t Care’ has its moments, initially seeming to be an upbeat acoustic track before painfully defeatist lyrics rear their head and random swathes of droning, jarring feedback are thrown into the mix for no obvious reason. Some interplay between static sounding electro beats and fluid fingerpicked guitars adds some variety to the soundscape of ‘It’s Fine’ but more morose lyrics suggest he’s really anything but.

And you’ll be shocked to hear things end on far from a happy note on the positively agonised ‘We Should Go To The Funeral Then We Can Say We Were There’. Wailed vocals battling it out with deliberately out of key keys to see which can be the most uncomfortable to listen to.

It would be unfair to say that ‘How To Become A Recluse’ is completely without its merits. There are occasional flashes of what could be awfully well disguised brilliance. But it’s hard to see any circumstances in hich you would want to spend long periods of time listening to this offering from Chalk. That is unless you want to become a person with no friends and a drink dependency. So in some ways it could be fitting to consider this more of an appropriately titled self-destruction manual then an album. Even a clinically depressed NME obsessed hipster would consider most of this fare to be a bit much, and that probably says it all.

1.5/5

‘How To Become A Recluse’ by Chalk is out on now on SARC.

Chalk links: Facebook||Bandcamp

Words by Dane Wright (@MrDaneWright
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