Chad Valley – Young Hunger (Loose Lips)

Hugo Manuel, the mastermind behind Jonquil and member of elite Oxford musical collective Blessing Force, is finally ready to lift the veil on his long-awaited debut long-player Young Hunger after a pair of critically lauded and solid EPs as producer alter-ego Chad Valley. Over the past two years Manuel has waltzed with a technical prowess and suave sonic chemistry of an underground legend – consistently raved about back when chillwave was the genre of the hour, he was a tour de force; though lagging behind contemporaries Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi in terms of popularity, Manuel still was able to churn out two distinctly brilliant lo-fi EPs. However, with the semi-demise of the smoky bliss from ruthlessly cool chillwave, Manuel struggles, unable to continue riding the hype-ridden wave when Balearica was king, and unable to move on to greener pastures without losing his footing.

Released Dec 4th, 2012 via Loose Lips / By Larry Day
Chad Valley – Young Hunger (Loose Lips) There's a plethora of star-studded tracks on the LP; it's a veritable who's who of electronic music, with Glasser, Fixers and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs et al. lending their hands to the mix. Opener 'I Owe You This' ticks with plinky drum machines, as hammy 80s cheese-vox take charge of the reigns. The sheer amount of harking back to 80s and 90s music is tangible, with echoing percussion and glitzy/joyfully tacky keys dominating the melodies. It's one of the stronger cuts on Young Hunger, with an undeniably catchy chorus and a substantial rhythm section. 'Fall 4 U', featuring Glasser, opens up to reveal a languid duet, slick and schmaltzy in the extreme and nodding to the power-pop ballads of the mid 80s.

Despite the odd glimmer of intrigue, the record as a whole feels flimsy. A pleasant synth motif here and a nice vocal line there does not a seminal album make. For a guy who has cut the positive baggage of his former endeavours, he lacks the intricate know-how for the genre he has taken a shine to: synth-pop. There's a noticeable lack of anything bass-related, it's hardly danceable (though peppy as hell) and just feels somewhat hollow, as if there was once a decent electro-pop album here, but it was gutted by an artist too unsure of his new place in the biz, an artist who lacked conviction to his own roots and his own strengths. Letting go would have done wonders.

“If you wanna be my girl, you gotta get with my friends”, is a lyric that actually happens. If you couldn't fathom Manuel's love of decades-old pop gems, then that fact is plain to see on this R'n'B influenced effort. It's layered with synths, seemingly smothered over the cracks to distract from the lack of pace and depth – though towards the end some tropical marimba-sounding synths saunter in to inject a welcome splash of interest. 'Fathering/Mothering' is a stripped back track, sodden with yearning from Norse chantreuse Anne Lise Frøkedal and an Eastern-influenced musicbox synthesizer line, twinkling endlessly beneath dreamy 'oohs' to sculpt the highlight of the album.

Young Hunger isn't awful, let's just get that straight. It does a brilliant job of being lovely background music, but as it lacks the emotional depth and deeper tones of truly astounding synth-pop or electronica, it will just stand up as a façade of style over substance. There are some standout tracks which break that mould: 'Fathering/Mothering' is beautiful, 'I Owe You This' is a smirk-inducing ray of sunshine. The goods just fail to outweigh the averages, with the genius of his earlier releases becoming ghosts of his past rather than the foundations of his future.