(note: the band’s management agreed to alter the graphics on their latest release to allow for displayability. this title reflects that as well.)
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I first heard of Chucklefuck from rapper G Bag’s “Straight Up GG-in” where he says “Your man’s a schmuck and he sucks- he ain’t never heard Chucklefuck.” I sought them out and have been a fan ever since.
Their music is buoyant and crowded, stuffed full of energetic performances and sing along vocals. Each member of the band is a talented singer in their own right, and the sometimes complex arrangements mean call and answer vocal melodies can come rapid fire and from all directions. This is music too clever or cool for mainstream radio but just right for surprising unsuspecting friends. There’s an urgency to the songs as well as a quirkiness that dominates despite the muscular rhythms. Think geek pop vis a vis the electric guitar and pounding drums.
“Unholy Ravioli” is as catchy a song as the band’s ever done but what really shines is the pseudo-jazzy bounce and shuffle that wrap around the vocals. Funky bass and fiery flute propel “Hairy Brain” into the neighborhood of 1970s era garage-groove while rowdy vocals disrupt the otherwise placid mood of “Got Another Dog,” though whether the canine in question is of the four legged variety is anyone’s guess (at least we know it slobbers and wags its tail).
Singer Aaron Meredith and guitarist Han Nudong have been writing most of the songs for their last few albums and the trend has been toward more and more accessible material, breaking with the repetitive, angular workouts of the past. Albums like Beat Up and Dig A Little Deeper felt like they had something to prove, but whether or not they did the band has moved on. Perhaps mellowing a bit with age, perhaps learning to do more with less, or just maybe they’ve gotten it out of their system, Chucklefuck seems content to march to their own beats and while you’re more than welcome to come along for the ride they’re no longer waiting on you. Drummer E. Kaplan and bassist Tyler Forbes certainly haven’t slowed down. If anything, they’ve developed shortcuts in their playing which allow them to still stab and sting while they effortlessly interlock and unravel in unison.
The record opens with the thudding graveyard fright of “Casket of Marzipan” which bookends nicely with closer “Plastic Legs” as the latter is after hours open mic chicanery set to vintage rhythm box clicks and clacks. Both songs pull you in with unusual, circular motifs either played in unison by the band or as elusive melodies flitting into and out of existence. Utilizing synthesizers and samplers more than ever means you’ll find yourself tapping your feet to the strangest things like detuned trumpet or fractured accordion.
A few missteps in the form of attempts at punk and too-angry shouting matches (“Naturally Fake” and “Am I Not Gorgeous“) spoil the mood a bit but not enough to derail the proceedings. I wasn’t a fan of the noise pastiche of “Secret Teeth” but it did have some fairly complex time signature changes at its core. These experiments are par for the course though. When you take as many chances as they do, you’re bound to stumble a bit.
Produced by Cecil Parks, Smell Weird has a controlled freneticism that keeps things moving at a breakneck pace. Parks is known for challenging and guiding his subjects while allowing them space to let their idiosyncrasies shine, and Chucklefuck has more than their share. Truly a band effort, the album nonetheless shares a common thread with several of Parks’ recent projects in that they all have an unapologetic danceability that wasn’t as dominant in their previous work. Has the producer brought it to or out of his charges? Either way, each artist has enjoyed some measure of critical success in releasing wonderfully infectious music without alienating their core fangroups. Besides, Meredith and the boys were always a bunch of toe tappin’ roustabouts, and now it seems they’ve found their mentor in Parks.