Sharing your name with a toy manufacturer may be a subliminal link to a childlike, energetic, enthusiastic brand of music and the title of Young Hunger, the début album from Chad Valley the alias of Hugo Manuel, certainly evokes a playful mood. Inexplicably linked with his band Jonquil and the splinter of that Trophy Wife, Manuel has had a lot of experiences to draw from, including his exquisite 2011 debut EP, Equatorial Ultravox.
The album begins in a similar vein to his previous work; ‘I Owe You This’ opens with old school beats, drenched in an arrangement of synths and drum beats suited to a Mediterranean beach in the early hours of the morning. Manuel’s falsetto voice soars high with a sense of urgency and desperation alongside Twin Shadow in the first of seven collaborative affairs. ‘Tell All Your Friends’ is a looser number, with calmer, more subdued instrumentals which bring us back into the chill wave territory that Chad Valley has so often traversed.
As you move into the ironically named ‘Fall 4 U’ however, a real lack of focus appears to rear its head. There’s experimentation left and right and at the centre of this are Manuel’s lyrics and vocals attempting to lock Young Hunger into a forward motion, but a fair number of the tracks seem to lose their way and run out of energy. The key moments of previous work have been the glaring, Balearic pop that grab you and are vivid pieces of work; ‘Up and Down’ – the only track that features from the 2011 EP – is a prime example of this, but on Young Hunger it’s intermittent.
‘My Girl’ is a rather cheesy, bouncy piece that pillages lyrics from the Spice Girls and employs Auto-Tune to emphasise the worst elements of pop culture. ‘Evening Surrender’ is a rather drab affair, although the track doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a collection of light beats. The chaotic nature of the album is exemplified in ‘My Life is Complete’ which features Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.
In many cases, the reasoning for bringing in guest vocalists seems rather thin. Most of the time very little is added to the overall atmosphere of the songs and are just a duplication of Chad Valley’s sound, especially in the case of Jack Goldstein (of Fixers fame) and Active Child. The euphoric exception to this is ‘Fathering / Mothering’ with the suitably delicate Norwegian voice of Anne Lise Frøkedal adding another dimension to the abundant, toned down synths.
Chad Valley certainly proves what the merits of experimentation are, hitting on a few inspired sounds which build on his previous work, but the drawbacks are that Young Hunger carries a somewhat messy sound that is held together by Manuel’s distinctive vocals.