The Chap: Mega Breakfast

The temptation to be lazy and use The Chap's own “Proper songs about girls and clubbing” lyric to describe the quartet's sound is powerful but I'll resist the urge. Not that the description isn't applicable, at least to some degree, but it's hardly the whole story. Mega Breakfast is actually the London-based pop group's third album (preceded by The Horse and Ham) but the quartet's addition to Ghostly's roster opens it up to a whole new school of listeners—at least those with an appetite for a skewed, geeky, and infectious brand of cerebral robo-pop. Though the group vehemently denies having been influenced by, ahem, “anyone or anything at any time, ever,” one could easily imagine after exposure to Mega Breakfast that the band members—Claire Hope (keyboards, vocals), Johannes von Weizsacker (guitar, vocals, computer, cello), Panos Ghikas (bass, violin, guitar, computer, vocals), and Keith Duncan (drums)—grew up ingesting their share of 10cc, Beck, Talking Heads, and King Sunny Ade albums.

An arresting opener, “They Have a Name,” sets the tone with a skeletal android funk pulse and vocals that intertwine like licorice sticks. “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley” neatly alternates male and female lead vocals over a jittery funk-pop pulse while the robo-dance stomp of “Caution Me” (“Come into my disco pad”) could easily pass for an outtake from Matthew Dear's Asa Breed (and lest anyone think The Chap's incapable of letting loose, the guitar roar unleashed at song's end should allay that doubt). “Ethnic Instrument” exposes the group's “meta” side most nakedly by riffing on African music while vocally referencing its plastic simulation of the form, a theme that surfaces elsewhere too (the pompous choir chanting “proper songs, real emotions” in “Proper Rock,” for example). Perhaps Mega Breakfast's peak moment arrives in the killer hook-fest “Fun and Interesting” where creaking strings augment restrained verses while choruses explode with a boisterous choir's shouts and deadpan interjections (“Come on, come on, cloner, [super, super] / clone me another me [good, good] / My generation [brilliant] / needs another me [super, super]).”

With every move methodically thought through, Mega Breakfast may be calculated to the extreme but is high-spirited fun nonetheless. It's forty minutes of monotone vocals, skeletal funk, fresh hooks, clever lyrics (maybe too clever), and inspired instrumental touches (e.g., the low-pitched, Jew's harp twang that recurs throughout “Carlos Walter Wendy Stanley”) that's oddly funky in an unfunky sort of way (e.g., the voice soberly intoning “get down with me” in “Take It in the Face”). More Songs About Discos and Cloning for the modern age, in other words.

September 2008