Chartreuse (GB) at Haldern Pop Bar
Being a band used to be so easy, so cool. Everyone was in a band once. Reinventing the wheel with three basic chords, and maybe just having cracked it. Mates for life, they said. Got the money off dad for these brutal effects pedals, and an amp bigger than the car. Big sound. Bigger dreams.
But then, suddenly, they weren’t so cool. Solo projects became all the rage. Stick ‘bedroom’ infront of a favourite genre and it sounded legit. Bedroom pop. Bedroom soul. Bedroom disco. Easier to maintain. Cheaper to feed. Creative differences began and ended with downloading Logic Pro or sticking with shareware Fruity Loops. The only vision was your own vision. Look cute. Share it on Insta; ‘working on new jamz’. 14 likes.
Occasionally you might find an artist that exists outside this distinctly 21st century regimental rites of passage. They’re difficult to place, difficult to read, difficult to discern any real narrative for. Just an artist making music. Really good music. Music you want to shout about but also rather keep to yourself. In it for all the right reasons, and in it because, bear with us here, they had no choice.
Chartreuse are one of those. A band. A really bloody good band. In tune not only with their instruments but with themselves. Each other. Almost painfully so. Feelings, huh? Underrated. Chartreuse are from the distinctly untrendy Birmingham too, so let’s call it the Black Country and not dwell. Chartreuse are a smart young band writing great songs that you should spend some time with. Biog ends.
But it doesn’t, because it can’t. We’d probably tell you more here about the cabin where they disappear to write songs and rehearse in, but Bon Iver beat them to it. It’s pretty important that cabin though. It’s where it all happens, where they write and sing and play and record and make mistakes and remedy them.
Chartreuse are Hattie Wilson, Mike Wagstaff, Rory Wagstaff, and Perry Lovering. Friends before they were a band. Inseparable before they even spoke of forming it. They share a mutual affinity with Ben Howard’s darker atmospherics, Sharon Van Etten’s emotional pull, and Radiohead’s entire back catalogue. Reverent music for emotional people. Stick that on a t-shirt.
But Chartreuse are a band of sisters and brothers who inexplicably breathe as one, and would put themselves under a bus for each other if they had to. Let’s hope they don’t, because in their new EP “Is It Autumn Already”, they’ve created something really, truly, uniquely special. A record that flows at its own pace, doing its own thing, and feels all the more essential for it. There’s that chill of The XX, the glitches and gloops of Justin Vernon, the guitar pulses of Spiritualized, and the metronomic rhythms as mesmerising as the eyes of Kaa. God, it’s good. A little jazz influence in there too perhaps. Oddball time signatures, unusual textures, rhythmically oblique. Mike and Hattie’s shared vocals entwine and skip as the backing swells, and you’ve got yourself one fascinating EP to shout about.
But let’s get serious for a minute, because there’s something going on here. Whilst the very notion of lyric writing as catharsis is as old as the hills, the two Chartreuse vocalists find their song writing as a vital way to say things that would otherwise have been left unsaid. Any half-baked therapist would tell you that’s no way to live. Emotions need sharing, and each member here has three other humans ready to listen. When recounting the personal story behind ‘Swedish Water’ (readers turn to track 3), Mike finds himself overcome with emotion, literally unable to get his words out. It transpires
he has not spoken on the subject in question for years, but on record he is able to tell the story with both beauty and clarity; his poetry dream-like, lucid: “Just lie on my chest again, speak softly in my ear, wherever you find your feet to be I will love you there.”
Hattie further reflects, “Music forces us to be open … to say things we wouldn’t say out loud.” It makes, on this body of work, for an unusual intimacy; whether Hattie’s almost whispered reflections on ‘Don’t Exit’, that recall her father’s heart attack (“Still pumping blood, and it’s not giving up. Don’t exit, don’t exit”), or the novelistic eye for domestic detail in ‘Deep Fat’ and its imagining of a teenage Mike following through on a desire to run away and start a new life and escape his own (“Yeah it’s pretty nice, the furniture’s all new wrapped up in plastic and the people here last must have smoked as there’s cigarette burns in the front room carpet”). It’s an open diary page with crossings and arrows to further pertinent points, or skimming through a book of short stories at pace; each vignette of the same world inhabiting its own distinct place and time within it.
Fittingly, the coda to these sometimes difficult and bruised stories is the gorgeous ‘Only You’, which Mike calls “Just a love song. That’s it.” But that isn’t just it. ‘Only You’ is no straightforward love song; it’s a love song of beautifully wounded sincerity, of underlying tension and an unspecified darkness. Like love can so often be beset by.
There’s no denying this is Serious music, capital s. But it’s exquisite music. Moving music. Music that stirs up emotions and leaves you in a crumpled heap. When was the last time a piece of music did that?
Chartreuse then; mates for life. Big sound. Big dreams.
Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien