REVIEW: Chester French – Music 4 TNGRS

Ah, Chester French… one part Milwaukee-bred, lead singer and songwriter David-Andrew “But You Can Call Me D.A.” Wallach, one part Boston-born-bred-and-boarded multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Max Drummey. Named after Daniel Chester French, the band doesn’t veer far from their namesake’s affinity for sculpting. Though, where Daniel carved stone, this duo dwells more in the place of subcultural sculpting through soundtracking the scene of the twenty-something teen.

Welcome, TNGRS. Not quite teenagers, not quite teens, never a tween, but forever the next big thing. TNGRS are a specific demographic – specifically not walking away, but not looking back: namely not walking away from the parents’ house, and not looking back for a Master’s degree #bachelorparty And yes, we have self-esteem – Chester French knows this; thus is likely why the opening track on M4TNGRS is entitled: “Next Big Thing.” You have to believe in you, or no one else will. “Look at you in that mirror, looking all good – you’re going to be a Hollywood kid in no time; that morning affirmation and self-flattery matches your eyes and duck-face. Yep we- hold on mom, I’m almost done!

The eleven-track collection is a reflection of this generation, that demographic caught beneath the gifted curse of being able to know everything, without direction on how to make proper sense of anything – drowning in information, starving for knowledge.  Yet and still, as products of this abbreviated era, Wallach and Drummey managed to soundtrack said uncertainty with a near-perfect identity LP for those twenteenagers in search of the throne.

We’ve arrived… at your service we’re alive
Bet you didn’t know… you require us to thrive
We are the new endeavor – we’ll keep you looking clever

TNGRS take external assumptions as assertions of self-definition – “all the kids all the kids these days, do you really want to be that way… does it really have to be that way – did you do your best today?” … French takes the reins from Sleigh Bells and carries the tune knowing you can’t be next forever. The Ivy League sophomore effort steps up to the plate with an astute take on the narrative of now.

“Next Big Thing” is an introductory manifesto. A bit of a maelstrom, but indicative of those things that make this generation the eternal nexus of the nextest and bestest: “We are the latest, greatest – so won’t you love to date us?” Distorted guitars, distant ephemeral vocals, signature Star Trak aural lasers (and if I’m not mistaken, the signature sounds of a one Pusha T and Skateboard P #dontquoteme), and wispy ambient percussion crashing over Wallach’s lyrics set the stage nicely for an anthemic – if not abbreviated – piece.

There’s definitely a matured sound from the duo here. While they haven’t left their lovable bits behind on the playground, they make concerted moves towards a more defined sonic aesthetic – without necessarily letting rigid genre-confines, or clean-cut instrumentation define their distinction. Take for instance the first single, “Black Girls.” On one hand, you’ve got heavy wet guitar riffs and drowning percussion at the base of the rock track, equally heavy lyrical social commentary (though again, not really sure why the controversy – is it 2012 or 1812? #thoughtthiswasamericapeople); but from the soundboard of a schoolyard crush-boy: his mom says he has a thing for these girls right, and he’s tried to taste the rainbow many different times – from Skittles to Sallys – so if you don’t like it “La La La La La La La La…” While the first single doesn’t necessarily reflect the heavy electronic, funk, and “urban smooth meets metal jungle” musicology of the album – the mindset and mentality couldn’t be more apropos.

The synth-and-blues Summer jam “Drop” is like when R. Kelly met what “Boyfriend” deluded the industry into belibing Justin had become – and effectually the the song plays like a mod take on Timberlake. Mellow moods and cartoons, a Harvard schooling on “Gs and Gents 101: How to Mack without a Mac.”

I bet you never been out on a date like this before, with a real gentleman who opens up the doors. I’ll pour you 7-Up and grenadine, and then you know we’re going bowling.

You got many layers… understanding, intellectual, but underneath it all, I know you’re sexual. So we can start this on the sectional, put on some Ren and Stimpy while you’re getting skimpy.

Taking it back to Cheetos on the couch in Clueless #wayexistential; sarcastic, kind of, but so undeniably smooth. It’s like a first date – love connections and synthesized smooth grooves for the future fathers out there; future fathers who may or may not want to be concerned with the Mariah Yeaters or Casey Anthonys of the world. Those Post-Dot-Com guys that might just prefer quiet storms and crescendos leading to an aural bubble bath with a fembot – heated with a touch of hard-driven haywire.

Track by track we ride through a journey of extended adolescence: some highs, some lows, some sex, some regrets, some love, some shrugs, and naturally, rock and roll. “Just Another Guy,” “Perfect Girl,” and “Maybe Next Time” are the contempo-classic love songs. Somewhat like if One Direction had musical direction – because that’s what makes tunes beautiful. That signature synth-soul that gets me: every. single. time. #electronicmusiccannotbesoulless

“Female Version” finds the juxtaposition of aggressive rock riffs beneath the tale of the lyricists’ better half – the “female version” of he. “Mania” hearkens to the duo’s higher-ups, Pharrell and Co. and pairs them with a touch of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” It pulls the N.E.R.D. tone, into a more densely electronic 2012 – a dabble-to-deluge of Battlestar Galactica backing effects – without losing the subtle funk which makes that signature sound so tangible. The track, much like the album collectively, triggers a certain nostalgia for Sofia Coppola films – where the music sounds like the scene.

My mania is over now I’m done, not interested in stardom just want fun
Nothing new, just a quiet crisis I’m going through – but I’m not feeling like I’m young
I feel younger while I’m getting older, haven’t got a clue
Wake up to my freest days with nothing left to do…

The album’s production is very much larger-than-life, in distant or submerged manner – very electro-acoustic, very synth-rasp and blues. It has the atmospheric arena expanse and boldly converged discordant symphonics of Born This Way, with the epochal anthemic rhythmically-rich core beneath the rough-reverbed facade of Watch The Throne; the next level indie hipster highschool Prog-Rock-Neo-Psychedelic-Alt-Hip-Hop Pop band feel of In Search Of… but the familiar New-Meets-Old-England Northern British Soul tone of Love the Future.

Music 4 TNGRS closes with the second single, and personal standout track, “Interesting Times.” Ushered in by the album’s instrumental bridge track, the understated but marvelous “Marquis,” “Interesting Times” brings the album back full circle like a response to “The Next Big Thing” that brought us to this place.

I cant believe I’m gonna die one day I can’t believe we’ll all be gone
I cant believe that I wont be twenty-five for much longer now
It’s weird this room’s gonna disappear, and that somebody lived here before
It’s weird I live in four dimensions, but there might be more

The final arcade fantasy come to sonic fruition. Wallach serenades an aside, the words drifting from the lips of a still-twenteenager. The listener can nearly make out the distant figure – likely not too distant from the listeners themselves – laying atop a twin bed, staring at the rotating constellations emanating from a nightlight just below the desk, just beside the backpack, and just above Babar the stuffed king. So close the ceilings, yet so far the skies… round and round and round it goes, the suspended spectacle of those twenteenagers lives…

As much a bedroom, as a space in the world – the ‘here today, gone tomorrow, yesterday is an oft-forgotten, misremembered, forever fading memory’ modern mentality – the penultimate close brings to light, those generational quandaries that keep the culture up at night.

And in case you missed it, the eleventh track is the acoustic… because beyond the hype and heavy production of a suffocating atmosphere, the acoustic simplicity reminds us of the solitary lone human and that most mortal message… putting an era at rest to rest with the lullaby of interesting times, and the rhapsody of uncertain royalty’s rhymes riding along freely as the Radio Flyer…

…but it’s all, but it’s all beautiful, beautiful, beautiful… there’s nothing else to say
you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, there’s nothing else to say
May you live in interesting times… may you live in interesting times

“… but all the difference aside, you really keep me alive,” all the different everythings aside – it’s that very TNGR eternal adolescence which is the American essence that keeps this culture alive.

Beyond the prominent production, the ever-enveloping electronic environment, it is the enduring lyrics that take us back to the playground. The songs are like long-lost notes, retrieved from a time capsule beneath the sandbox, or somewhere under a tree in the quad. That’s what I dig most about the album. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It is a 2012 LP of the mixtape you would have made for your Post-9/11-But-Pre-Katrina-So-There’s-Still-Hope self, about yourself, now. I also like it because … I’m a TNGR and it’s my kind of music.