The Chief Smiles
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The Chief Smiles

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"A CD a Day"

You don’t know The Chief Smiles yet, but you should.

Help Us Help You opens up with the kicking “Fit To Be Tied,” a burst of well-considered rock energy that sails by in an all-too-brief three minutes and change. The next track, “Cold Water Flat,” is a much different kind of beast – slow-burner with female vocals and an insistent violin riff (Do violins have riffs? I dunno, but they do now). It’s a bit of a letdown after the smokin’ opener, but it works great as a transition to the next track, “Cure-All,” which picks up with a healthy guitar chug and rocks right along. At this point, I think it apropos to discuss the production elements of this record. For a small-budget release, the production value is absolutely phenomenal. The vocal mix is warm and deep, the guitar sound is just so – and none of it feels too overdone; it feels like good old rock and roll – what a surprise.

So anyways, “Cure-All” - this track basically slays. If I had any complaint, and this goes for the whole record, it’s that the lyrics don’t really grab me. That’s OK, because I know a lot of people don’t care too much for the lyrics and just listen to the sound of music. The beautiful vocal harmonies in this song’s third-act breakdown more than make up for any lyrical misgivings I may have. “Stop The Blue Angel” is a different kind of beast altogether, a mid-tempo grower that is, in a word, entirely pleasant, but goes on a bit too long.

Gene Wilder quote opens “Knuckle Sandwich” – another full-on riffage ‘n roll assault, with requisite violin riff that kicks into a really attractive mid-song build-up/breakdown thing. It also reinforces that violin riffing (which has become the theme of this review) is really hypnotic and attractive and I don’t know why more bands don’t employ this strategy. “Little Hans II” is a nice little instrumental break, and provides a nice transition to the albums’ “Program B” – if this were an LP, I’d assume this is the end of side one. More violin riffage: tasty.

“Plagued By Bad Sound” (killer title) opens up Side 2 – a little acoustic intro and then it kicks in, quite nicely, with jangly guitars and a pretty aching male/female vocal performance. This track really sums up the well-considered songwriting style of The Chiefs, and it’s perfectly beautiful in its own world of three-and-a-half minute pop glory. “Survivor’s Mood Ring” (Did I mention the titles were good?) changes things up a bit, kind of a more menacing feel overall, helped along by a sinister drum part that possibly could have been mixed a little higher just to give the whole thing that extra “oomph!”

“Even Albatross Wept” continues in the heavier, more sinister vein and exudes pure rock glory all the way through. This is my favorite song. This is the best song. This song has the best violin riffs. This song just full-on rocks. I even like the lyrics alright – bonus! “Chummy” is another little instrumental break that fits in as a come down after the rock orgasm induced by “Albatross.”

Unfortunately, the next track, “Creatures of the Upper Atmosphere” is probably my least favorite on the album. Insistent and obvious acoustic guitar sound and dispassionate lead vocal plus worst violin riff yet sort of all adds up to a big “eh.” It’s a compliment to The Chiefs that even this mediocre song would be a gem on the long-players of most commercially successful rock bands. Of course, The Chief Smiles have learned well the entertainment maxim “Wow ‘em in the end.” and “I’m Immune To You” is a great closer. We got handclaps, we got the best vocal performance on the record, and – yes – more violin riffage! Damn, this is a pleasant number.
The Chief Smiles are from New York or thereabouts, buy their CD here – believe me its better than that new Darkness album, and it costs half as much - A CD a Day


"Music Underwater"

Why do I always take up the friend’s album review challenge? Somebody asks if you want to hear their album to review it and I’m always there at the front, saying yeah. One of these days I’m going to say that and the product I receive is going to be absolutely awful. I still have no idea what I’m going to do when that inevitable situation arises. Luckily, when I stuck my hand up for the debut offering from this New York four-piece, I needn’t have worried. It’s the kind of album that makes you glad to be alive.

That’s a pretty lofty statement, I admit, and you can’t go making that sort of comment without backing it up. It’s tempting, I must say, but sanity must prevail. I keep meaning to ask for some background detail on the band, but I also keep forgetting, so I don’t know a great deal. Sometimes it’s better that way. The liner notes tell me that there are four members, two of whom, Alex and Sarah Trimpe, have the same surname. I don’t know if they’re siblings or married. Does it really matter? I mean, really? No. Although it does say below “Chief Sister: Amelia Trimpe”, which leads me to believe, correctly or not, that they’re siblings.

Anyway, I guess I should get on with it. The album kicks off in delightfully rocking style with Fit To Be Tied. Bright guitars, happy whoo-ing. Just what you need on a Sunday morning. There’s a neat little riff in the mix, too and the vocal is perfectly toned. After a while, the violin arrives. With that, there was always the risk it would sound gimmicky and stuck on, but it definitely works. Then there’s an almost, dare I say it, “metal” breakdown, but in a Black Mountain sense, before the song winds back down to a breezy conclusion. It’s a great way to open an album.

The next track, Cold Water Flat, has a jagged stop-start riff as an intro which is met with Sarah’s sublime vocals. She has one of those voices that just sounds great wherever. She could tell you your whole family had been killed in a big fire and it wouldn’t be so bad. I think this song could actually do without the violin, to be perfectly honest, especially during the bridge, where it just sounds out of place. The chorus is reminiscent of Evanescense. Wait! It’s actually really good at the same time. Yeah, I know, but really. And the little quiet bit is enough to melt any heart, however high its melting point. At that point, the violin really works, actually.

Track 3 is one of my favourite tracks of the year, and the obvious highlight here. Cure-All screams out of the blocks all big chords and smashed drums and everything. All guns blazing. Then it all stops, leaving a solitary little metal riff, which is then turned into an ear-blasting piece of rock action. Sarah’s vocal is superb yet again, so perfectly complimenting the power behind her, ala Kim Deal’s best work with the Pixies. During this song’s quiet bit, Alex and Sarah sing together. Christ, it sounds great. Nothing quite like a band effortlessly fusing noise and subtlety, is there?

Stop The Blue Angel is a lighter number, and lacks the punch of the previous three songs, but it’s still a nice enough listen, and there are enough nice little moments to make it a worthy addition. Knuckle Sandwich sounds just like you’d expect. Well, the start does anyway. Big aggressive rock. The chorus is actually the last thing you’d expect. I’m really at a loss to describe it. I think the closest comparison is probably an Eastern European entry in the Eurovision song contest (sorry, that’s a cultural reference no doubt completely lost on any American readers, which is about 90% of you). How the hell it works I’ll never know, but it sure as hell does. And the melody of the non-repeated verse between choruses is simply beautiful. Program A (as the band call the first half of the album) closes with a bizarre bit of, well, Russian folk? I’m not really sure. I don’t know if Little Hans II was written solely to say “we have a violin in the band”, but let’s just say it’s not for me and move on.

Program B (obviously, that’s the second half of the album) gives away immediately that it’s going to be a softer affair. Whimsical acoustic strumming opens Plagued By Bad Sound. It’s another shared vocal and it works as well as almost anything here. It’s perfectly constructed, sad and uplifting at the same time. Survivor’s Mood Ring is again softer than its Program A counterparts, failing to quite match up to Plagued By Bad Sound, but still getting everything just about right.

Even Albatross Wept starts out sounding like it could be some sort of mysterious sea shanty, but fear not. Instead, it’s an epic rocker, encompassing all kinds of genres and coming out smelling of roses, with a 100 Broken Windows-era Idlewild shouty outro, which fades out. Actually, can a song that scrapes past four minutes be classed as an epic? Well, on this evidence, probably yes. Chummy isn’t a good song name, but it is a good song. A nice plucked instrumental with accompanying violin part.

Creatures Of The Upper Atmosphere passes by without causing too much of a fuss, but the closer, I’m Immune To You is The Chief Smiles back to their best. It’s catchy, it’s bouncy and it rocks. It’s one of those songs just made for ending live shows. I’m sure they’ve put it to such effect.

Overall, Help Us Help You is a solid effort. It’s definitely not without its flaws. Indeed, there are times the consistent use of the violin can begin to grate. However, there are also moments when it compliments the other instruments perfectly, and it’s these moments, and there are plenty, that make this such a rewarding listen. This is a band confident in their ability to not only experiment with different styles and genres, but also to fuse them. With one notable exception, they pull it off, which is no mean feat.

When The Chief Smiles get it right, the results can be breathtaking, and there’s more than enough here to reward anyone who perseveres.

B - Music Underwater


"Being There"

Another long day at work. Logging off of my computer I am finally walking away but wondering who I am. After spending several daylight hours defending, with disciplinary action if not, my employer to whom I waste as much abhorrence as I do its consumers, I am weak and confused. Focusing all my daily energy on adherence. Rules, schedules, and percentages. Good, good. Jargon, tone, and time off. Bad, baad. My first sense of peacefulness is always when I walk out of the back door and see the reflective black rear end of my Swedish fashioned machine. I love the sound of the doors unlocking when I turn the key, it reminds me of punching a time clock. Remember the old days? Turning on the ignition she starts up, stutters and reclaims herself. Snickering to herself, pretending she wants to stay and put in some overtime, a little game she plays everyday. Very funny. I fumble around my littered back seat for a compact disc, usually Muddy Waters but today The Chief Smiles.
The music is only igniting my rage, subconsciously gesticulating to me to violate rules, laws and decency. They transcend all conventional musical identity and obliterate that selfish sense of hip-ness. Pulling their influences from several different directions and jamming them into solitary songs challenging you to interpret their metaphors. “Help Us Help You” is a twelve song tale of self discovery littered with frustration. The violin is antagonistically placed atop the layers of guitars, weaving in and out of verses, choruses, and interludes only thickening the atmosphere so that you can feel it when you inhale. It draws you into its trap while you are crushed by the unforgiving guitars.
Pulling into the local drugstore to get some provisions only infuriates me. It is what I believe the most unpleasant parking lot in town. It proves to me how selfish people are and why there are certain rules, ones that organize peoples common decency and sense. The SUVs scattered everywhere look like some infant spilled his matchbox cars all over the living room floor. Rolling up my rear end and bearing down my front trying to take up as much space as possible. They’re only in a hurry go home and clog up the sewers in a similar but different fashion. While inside I grab my things, take them to the counter and as the cashier is bagging my items I have my card ready to swipe. Waiting for the transaction to go through the cashier says “it says ‘do not accept.’” “Why does it say that?” I ask. “Well, you must check your bank for that answer.” My world implodes. I have become who I hate, the ignorant person in someone else’s workplace. It is an infinite cycle. We all are. I throw my cash on the counter and storm out, mentally dismembering the public on my way back to my car. Fucking machines. A Camaro at the nearby intersection screeches as it peels out to the next stoplight only 100 yards away. Fucking people fucking their machines. I slide back into the car and turn the radio on… fucking machines.
Now, back to my own world which has now collaborated with the Chief Smiles. It is the kind of music I usually enjoy in private, poetry set to music. A lot of nostalgic thoughts, retrospect, and philosophy I dare not to take it too seriously or the joke is on me. Before you can catch up to it the song takes another direction and you cannot predict where it is going next. Take that seriously. “Like disappearing spines.” laugh and cry with them, but don’t get too close. To me it was a path of self destruction and regret that led to looking back at what created the feeling. Or perhaps, “Plagued By Bad Sound” is stating that life doesn’t end abruptly but is slowly squeezed out of you. We wonder around aimlessly only to discover later that something had actually happened to us and we weren’t even there to recognize or appreciate it. You miss out on the best experiences in you life when your too busy wishing you had something better or different. Instead of regretting what you have or haven’t done turn your experience into something beautiful. When I think back I don’t remember all of the insignificant frustrations in life, only what was happening to me at the time. I remember being in situations and while distracted by observances of what I thought was wrong there was something bigger around me, the direction I was taking. I was going home. Away from my day. Away from what I thought was my life but was only my job. Driving away from the disgusting outside world. Driving towards my home. At home there is no need to explain myself. At home my cats are unaware of the selfishness in people but only the fact that I am finally there… to feed them. But first my two new favorite songs “Plagued By Bad Sound” and “Even Albatross Wept.” - Being There


"Smother.net"

Sarah and Alex, sister and brother, are two parts of The Chief Smiles. A rock outfit that adds female and male vocals along with violin, the band is certainly brave and unique for the pop world. Each of the members bring their own unique background and taste in music to the table, with one citing Tool and the other Slayer and Celtic music as inspiration. Clearly that results in some damn original music, but who would have thought it would have been this damn fine too. Good stuff guys and gal! - Smother.net


"indieworkshop.com"

It is good to start out with a central theme or a central sound. It gives you a place to put your feet; it keeps you grounded while everything else can drift wherever it wants. While I have not picked out a central theme for The Chief Smiles, the central sound comes from violinist and co-writer Sarah Trimpe. If a violin makes you smirk, then think Scarlet Rivera from the Dylan's Rolling Thunder days, with deep beats and more distorted guitar.

This album was sent to me with foreign currency taped to the back. I suppose that is some kind of payola, but frankly I think the US currency value may only be several cents. Either way, I am not taking a trip to the bank to find out, I will just tuck in the back of my drawer for a rainy day when all currency is abolished and there is a market on eBay for any existence of paper money.

For a self-release album The Chief Smiles disguise a great deal of amateur posturing, if there is any. "Fit to be Tied" begins the album with a great deal of enthusiastic pop. Certainly, there is not a lot of depth mined in lyrics like "let me take a ride, again", but the energy and smart brevity creates a memorable opening scene to set up the album. The ‘Smiles are not afraid of detours and why should they be? Many of the tracks end up no where near the place they started. Sometimes it is great and surprising, but sometimes, like in the case of "Cure-All" it leaves one scratching his head.

It appears hard to tell where the influence in the ‘Smiles comes from. "Survivors Mood Ring" begins with a metal riff, but you still can't help but love the bizarre scratching strings and the military lyrical delivery. Even the songs halfway turn to melodic yet powerful hook confuses the listener. As a means to settle down, The Chief Smiles offer up the lo-fi recording sound of "Even Albatross Wept" simplifies the album and is almost warming despite the bleak title.

This album, despite confusing me at several points, takes chances and pulls them off at times with perfection. To say that the ‘Smiles have not found their sound yet, would be untrue, it is all there on this album just broken up a bit too much here and there. Help Us Help You, is well worth taking a chance on and worth repeated listen, even if there is not foreign cash taped to the back of the disc. - indieworkshop.com


"Village Voice"

(from when we were called 'Badger')Rocking with vocals/volin/guitar/bass/sampler whatsis from three (or four if you count MC Gert) people of both genders from New Paltz (home of poor-house boneyards!) and Brooklyn. The numbers where the female sings feel more distinctive than the ones where the male does, but the parts where nobody sings and the groove turns trance-like are best. One song has strings that sound like "We Three Kings". Badgers are sorta like wolverines except more sane, right? - Village Voice


"Blogcritics.org"

At the heart of The Chief Smiles is Sarah and Alex Trimpe, a brother and sister who have been making music together for quite some time. This band is their second incarnation after releasing two EPs and a full length album under the name Badger. They used a guitar and violin sampler motif with Badger, and have streamlined that same model into this incarnation.

The sound is something unique to alternative music, though it has bits and pieces of what you might call influencing genres scattered throughout. The violin solo on "Little Hanz II" has a salsa/Latin/tango sound. "Fit to Be Tied" has a country-rock feel. "Plagued by Bad Sound" is unmistakably Beatle influenced. As a whole the sounds are unique and varied yet, somehow, you get a familiar feel throughout, even if they are different familiar themes.

Just as distinctive as the random and varied sounds from track to track is the presence of the violin on each and every one. Call it the sound which ties the songs together or the distinguishing trait of The Chief Smiles — either way it's an undeniable presence. One that is emotive and expressive. Whether it is the moaning pleading cry in "Even Albatross Wept" or the dark and tense lines in "Survivor's Mood Ring" it comes through just as animated as if the violin was a third voice.

I say a third voice, because lead vocal duties are shared on Help Us Help You between the brother and sister team. Also contributing to the sound is Michael Hummer on percussion and Vikas on guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion. Aside from vocals, Alex lends his guitar and bass talents and Sarah plays violin as well as lead vocals. The Trimpe's share writing credits on all the tracks.

The album opens with "Fit To Be Tied." A loud and proud sort of sound, it has an edgy county-rock feel to it. Musically, think Tim McGraw's "Indian Outlaw" — only more refined with smoother changes. The lyrics amount to a hook-filled chorus that is not really the center focus. On this one it's the instrumentation that takes center stage and it is for me the stand out track on Help Us Help You.

But diversity is the key to this album, and just because the vocals don't take center stage on one song, doesn't mean they won't on another. You only have to wait until the very next, "Cold Water Flat," to hear Sarah's beautiful yet ghostly voice take center stage. The quality is such to leave a prickle chill across your skin as she conveys not only the words but the emotions behind them. Later in the CD it's "Even Albatross Wept" that delivers a poignantly eerie sentiment. But it uses a completely different tone to do so.

If you are tired of the typical and formulaic music, or looking for something that is a step out of the box, combining sounds and pushing limits, then you should pick up a copy of this CD.

Help Us Help You is the first collection from this quartet, The Chief Smiles, and is available through CD Baby, iTunes, and Emusic. Information on The Chief Smiles can be found on their Myspace profile. - Blogcritics.org


Discography

Great for Terrible Times - 2008
Help Us Help You - 2005
Badger - 2003 (released under that name)

Photos

Bio

Siblings Sarah Trimpe and Alexander Trimpe began playing together around the turn of the millennium, in Kerhonkson, New York. Originally, they called themselves Badger. Two EPs and a full-length album (Badger, The Darkest Cup Recordings, 2003) were recorded, and countless audiences were confused by the guitar/violin/sampler setup.
After their first all-human lineup imploded, Sarah and Alex retreated to Tucson, Arizona, to record their first album as The Chief Smiles. Help Us Help You (I Like Red Studios, 2005) attracted the attention of bassist Glenn Aroca. An Ecuadorian metalhead coming off a stint in a Celtic band, Glenn fit in well and soon put his unique stamp on The Chief Smiles sound.
In early 2007, the band began recording the follow-up to Help Us Help You. Utilizing a byzantine recording system that spanned entire continents and employed ten people, Great For Terrible Times was a long time in the making, but certainly worth the effort. It was released, in the modern fashion, in late 2007 / early 2008 to blood-curdling screams.
As the release of Great For Terrible Times approached, the three members of The Chief Smiles became four. Enter drummer Brian Bair, a man whose left hand and right foot might be substituted for the unstoppable force and immovable object of yore .
The band is secretly based in and around New York City.