The Hungry Years
Gut Records Ltd., 2004
REVIEW BY: Benny Balneg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/15/2007
There’s really something that I can’t seem to put my finger on in hipster music, whether it be the lush sound, sexy music or the effectively strange melodies. Regardless, it does create that pleasant vibe that you want to bask in during a slow, lazy day, assuming that the music does hit the mark. The Hungry Years, Chungking’s sophomore effort, appeals to the former need.
Hitting the mark, however, would be another story.
Opener “Come With Me” oozes with flair and brooding sexiness because of its nice beats and Jessie Banks' mesmeric voice. It is apparent from the get-go that Banks' soulful vocals are the centerpiece of the album, and it is highlighted by a less-flourished but equally dreamy Zero 7-esque backdrop provided by Sean Hennessey and James Stephenson. Banks' provocative voice sounds good in this track, specifically when the melodies flow naturally with the music.
Aside from the melodies, lot of experimentation was employed in The Hungry Years to surprisingly amusing effect. Listen to “Full On” and get a load of those strange male vocals. Oh wait, that’s not male vocals, that’s Jessie Banks! The processed vocals would reappear in the single “Let The Love In,” contributing to its blasé and fun vibe that recalls the summer time.
Although restraint was a road less traveled in the album, it's a road that leads to a good end. “Please Don’t Talk” is a song where all the pieces fit to create a unified whole. Banks was able to channel a chilling, laid back performance amid minimal beats and subdued instruments. The sweet keyboard portion in the middle of the song adds flair to an already livid song.
After all the good things said, one of the setback with regard to their music is the awkwardness whenever Banks tries to force the melodies herself. “Making Music” and its chorus serve as an example. Her melodic choices are strange and might come off as cheeky to other listeners. Let’s face it, she can sing, no question, but choosing and belting out the right notes are two different things.
However, the biggest fault that the album has is mediocre songwriting. Sure, all of the good songs mentioned above possess loads of charm and style, but they only work within context of the album, not as stand-alone works of art. Also, the remaining songs on the album are simply unable to produce even portions that would draw the interest of the listeners, leaving the album thin with relevant, if not engaging, material.
Maybe it has to do with the band’s proclivity to flesh out different musical ideas that might be disconcerting to some, but that facet contributes to the album being more stylish than substantial, a characteristic that does not make for a compelling listen. The Hungry Years ultimately lacks that truly catchy beat and memorable vocal line that would set it against the pack.
The Hungry Years would have to be listened repeatedly in order for the songs to make an impression to the listeners, but it's not the worst soundtrack with which to kick back and watch the summer unfold.