This post is written by Justin "J Co." Corp - engineer at Second Street LLC. Justin has worked at several recording studios in Chicago and has a Bachelor's Degree in Commercial Music from Millikin University.
As we approach the desolation of another Chicago winter, we find ourselves having a slew of uniquely Midwestern feelings. We return to the indoors for solace, as my personal favorite parts of this grand city take on new meaning. The beach becomes an ominous, meditative place, leaving behind the husk of summer tans and booty cheeks. The gardens that we spent all summer admiring begin to grow barren and quiet. There is something so indescribable about the six months that we are about to enter. While there have been songs for hundreds of years about the turning of autumn, today we will hear a welcome, new perspective on this yearly transition in our digital age: Chicago's very own Chaepter gifts us with an eerie collection of melancholic perfection, his debut album Kicking The Cat.
Chaepter Negro knows the cycle of the seasons in the Midwest because he, like many of us, has lived through it... over and over again. This compelling artist has released his music under a number of monikers throughout his life, one of the earliest being Ransom Scenery. This Springfield duo that formed while he was in high school was fundamental to the musical ideals that he continues to draw from. Artists like Depeche Mode, alt-J, and Deerhunter paved the way for modern-experimental rock -- this same blending of technology and chaos can be found in Chaepter's music dating all the way back to 2014.
After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan, Chaepter moved to Chicago and started writing music as a solo artist, using his unforgettable first name as a stage alias. Since releasing an EP in March entitled Nobody Died along with a cryptic video project, he began premiering some of his Kicking The Cat songs at a series of gigs at The Burlington in Logan Square.
Chaepter has also recently founded a creative space called Church of the Cat, which jointly hosts shows and acts as a record label for local releases. Chaepter's debut album Kicking The Cat was released on October 7th, 2022. As was the case in his other works, this project is self-written, self-recorded, and self-mixed.
What Does It Sound Like?
Unlike big bangs that go viral on first impact, the album trickles into existence. "If You Love Me" is a track that decisively drops us into the disorienting style that Chaepter has worked years to rein in. Throughout the album, we are warped through time, escorted in-and-out of deep consciousness. There are certainly influences of hip-hop in the percussion and synth basses that permeate some of these dreamscapes (most apparent in "In Flux"). In fact, I had a hard time determining whether to highlight this album in our "Indie & Rock" or "Hip-Hop & R&B" series because it transcends the two in such a curious way.
"Ritual" was the first single to be released off of the album, along with a DIY-feel music video of Chaepter emerging from the waters of Lake Michigan. Some of the most candid lyricism on the album is framed within the haunting chimes of a child's music box. As the song comes to a close and the meditation reaches its peak, he leaves us with romance, followed immediately with dissociation. The last line is "thinkin' bout you daily, it's my ritual; every day I'm with you is so beautiful" - before we even have the time to realize this feeling, it withers away in a chopped and screwed reimagining of the track.
Only half of the brooding nature of these vocals comes through the lyricism. The actual tone of the vocals is disturbingly pleasant and airy. The constant doubling and re-pitching holds a cosmic aesthetic rivaled by outer-space itself - "New Day New Bby" is a prime example of this nightmare-esque disorientation, achieved by distorting and bending audio repeatedly. The vocals effects on this album help us ride on the line of sanity. There is an ichor-like bubbling, boiling, and flowing in his vocals that pour the album through its course.
What Does It Feel Like?
I was initially hesitant to listen to this album due to the absolute impact of the imagery of the title - such a deeply-disturbing, evocative image to a proud cat parent. Paired with the album cover, the first impression brings the listener in like an abandoned tunnel-of-love ride. Kicking The Cat is subdued in themes of grief, betrayal, trauma, and confusion. The drums hold such pain and sorrow, even on the most exciting tracks. The synthesizers light up an otherwise-dark landscape, both in timbre and attitude. Songs like "On the Mend" and "Poisoner" feel like a fever dream with a cinematic twist. There is something so deeply recognizable in the aesthetic of gothic films like The Woman in Black and The Corpse Bride, and it only makes sense that Chaepter self-describes his sound as "Midwest Gothic."
There's an old expression that says: "Where words fail, music succeeds." Even as an lifelong instrumentalist, I have rarely felt the meaning of this phrase until just recently. Kicking The Cat is one of these occasions where I truly feel the gravity of that statement: I want so badly to write about this album, because it makes me feel emotions that are near impossible to put into simple words. It's quite the paradox.
When I listen to "The Boonies," I feel like I am drifting through an infinite, digital space. The final few tracks begin to narrow the focus on the themes of the album while growing distant from the dense instrumentals that we've become acquainted with. The journey through this hour-long, fragmented, and otherworldly experience becomes sobered in its final moments. This album is a modern piece that is daunting to most, and certainly out of the comfort zone of an average consumer. I give high praise to Chaepter for taking his time to put out an entirely idiosyncratic piece of art.
To celebrate the release of Kicking The Cat, Chaepter performed at none other than the venue that hosted his first Chicago show - The Burlington. I'm certainly looking forward to the next chance to see him in concert, and I have no doubt that stunning new songs are already in the works. Give it a spin and drift away, then let us know how it's sounding!
On The Block...
"In or Out" - Liska
Disney Punk is officially back, folks! Liska's bubblegum, flirtatious vocals bring life to Midwest surf pop. Grab your Walkman and check out this 5 song EP, and catch Liska playing Golden Dagger as Gwen Stefani on Sunday, October 30 for a Halloween set.
"Squash Bender" - The Eradicator
Every one of these songs is literally about squash. And like the high-octane racket sport, The Eradicator has rapidly gained popularity among enthusiasts and professionals. That is to say, this off-the-walls record is a must-hear for all real fanatics.
"DKHTBA" - Red Scarves
Red Scarves' new five song EP brings a diverse load of charismatic songs, written by each member of the group. The band has proven themselves as a collaborative and flexible team that can tackle any side of the indie spectrum with grace.