Chin Up Chin Up – This Harness Can’t Ride Anything (Suicide Squeeze)
The notoriously difficult sophomore album is made even more difficult when your band has released a worthy debut, which Chicago’s Chin Up Chin Up did with We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers (mp3), an album rendered even more impressive concerning the heartbreaking events they endured to finish it.
Tragedies can inspire, but there’s little evidence that the tragedy surrounding their debut have lit a creative fire on their follow-up. This Harness Can’t Ride Anything manages to replicate the same formula of the debut with a shade more proficiency and accessibility. Which is strange, given the circumstances, as this kind of guitar interplay should be the perfect field for a band that needs to exercise some personal demons.
There are hints that this request could be achieved: the title track (mp3) starts with a quirky, staccato guitar before transitioning into a larger-than-life surge of chords. By the 2:21 mark, the strings appear and you’re thinking that all of the expectations planted from We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers are coming true.
Additional evidence is found on “Landlocked Lifeguards,” where vocalist Jeremy Bolen teams up with Laura Laurent over a bouncy pattern (complete with banjo) before submitting to feedback, right around the time Bolen finally opens up with some honesty: “These are the moments we have lost / these are the friends that we’ve become.” It’s as close to an acknowledgement to Chris Saathoff as you’ll find here, and it’s one of the few tracks that work lyrically and musically.
Bolen seems confident enough in his lyrics but the real confidence should come in what Chin Up Chin Up can do with their instruments. He likes to play footsie with his subject matter, which is frustrating enough, but even more so when the band is already being coy with their melodies. Knowing when to shut up and let the notes speak for themselves is something that should have been a higher priority going into this album.
Not only because it sounds like they’re avoiding heavy subject matters in their lyrics (case in point: “you get bored / you get bored / with the retards and the keepers” from “Blankets Like Beavers.”), but because the music only starts to grow infectious after repeated listenings. This Harness Can’t Ride Anything is proving to be one of those albums that I return to and discover something more in its quirky landscapes. They’re completely indebted to the Flying Nun label, particularly to The Clean, and having listened to Vehicle on more than a few dozen occasions, I’m rather enjoying Chin Up Chin Up’s take on New Zealand art-pop via the Eisenhower expressway.
It’s the music that leaves a lasting impression after the disc has ended, but with that being said, it’s not a huge leap from where they left off musically on Skyscrapers. So I’m not sure why I can’t just recommend the debut over this. I can’t actually, just like I can’t tell the members of Chin Up Chin Up that making the third album will get any easier after you’ve already played it safe on the second.