Too much like warm candyfloss: comprising only sugar, air and synthetic colour.
Kris Griffiths 2012
Hugo Manuel dislikes the chillwave tag pinned to Chad Valley, his solo project away from fronting Oxford indie group Jonquil. There’s no mention of the subgenre on the press release for Young Hunger, his debut long-player following two EPs; though there is talk of the “fire and strength” and “super big” production behind the album.
But those expecting something a bit more fiery or robust than Manuel’s previous EP Equatorial Ultravox will be disappointed – or pleased – at receiving this wider splurge of woozy, ambient synth-pop. It more readily evokes a sun-dappled Mediterranean than the Oxford outskirts in which it was written.
Young Hunger mostly treads lukewarm waters. Manuel’s music has dropped in temperature slightly – fittingly, perhaps, for this record’s November release – and these 11 tracks lack Equatorial Ultravox’s pulse-raising percussive rhythms.
Tell All Your Friends sounds like an extended middle-eight for album opener I Owe You This; both would’ve sat well in the early 90s new jack swing scene they’re audibly influenced by. With Manuel’s vocals drifting between George Michael and Roland Orzabal over mid-tempo electronic drums, and the second track’s falsetto intro a dead ringer for Alexander O’Neal’s Criticize, it’s pretty clear which decade tops the influence chart.
90s pop looms with the sugary My Girl, featuring the lyric, “If you wanna be my girl / Then you gotta get with my friends” – say no more. It’s followed by the helium-light Evening Surrender, its synth refrain resembling something you might hear in a massage parlour.
The second half returns to the 80s. There are echoes of Deacon Blue in Up & Down, and the title track so suggestively references Thriller’s breakdown section that you half expect Vincent Price’s ‘rap’ to commence.
Guest vocalists agreeably add some variety to the mix, including Jack Goldstein of fellow Oxford collective Fixers and a Bowie-like turn from TEED’s Orlando Higginbottom. But for the most part this album, while as slickly produced as the classic pop it references, only faintly smoulders without igniting.
Which is no bad thing for listeners preferring their soundscapes hazy and languid; but for these ears it’s too much like warm candyfloss: comprising only sugar, air and synthetic colour.