"We think by feeling. What is there to know? I hear my being dance from ear to ear."
~ from Theodore Roethke's poem "The Waking"
I have been wrestling with this review. This is a great band making some kind of new music that defies description. They have more art in their music than I've heard half the time at the symphony hall, but they recently entertained happy tripping dance drunk crowds at Burning Man. My initial review is by and large a halliucination while listening to the music. A new music demands a new kind of description. What I would like to do is get every damn reader with a heart to buy this album and put it on a separate shelf where you keep reverent things that make you want to laugh and love and live in a dream. Do that for me, will you?
Everything came together as I wanted with A Look To The West, Billy. When I was making it, I attempted to describe the music but could never explain what it is that we were making. I knew deep down that this was special in the sense that it's hard to explain. I still struggle to describe our sound. And you are right, I've been developing this sound for many years, and it's finally maturing.
~ Russell Chapa
"I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it."
~ Igor Stravinsky
It's been five days since the review of Chapa's "A Look To The West" was posted. I've written a review and heard music live twice since that day. I'm still listening to Chapa.
As a beginning music writer, I'm greedy to be the voice people first hear about the band Chapa and this album. I'm still listening to Chapa. It is as though it were the first time. The first writing I did about music was about 20th Century composition back when 20th Century was contemporary. I listened to Stockhausen, Harry Partch, Steve Reich, Toru Takamitsu, and actually met John Cage, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Mort Sutbotnik, Lucky Mosko and other composers, conductors and such musicians. I hear the same innovation and courage in the music of Chapa.
This is a tripping album. You may need your unobstructed mind to take the trip properly. If you imagine the Berlioz "Symphony Fantastique" and it's whacky and brilliant use of percussion and the insanity of the plot detailing an inner vision of the composer, imagine Tom Waits singing over the din. The thought gives me an out of the body experience. Tom Waits is the direct conceptual descendant of eccentric composer Harry Partch. The innovative imagination of America is kept alive by these people. Chapa is a colleague in that stream of new music and a brother to Harry Partch and Tom Waits in a very selective special club.
This may be the new opera I'm listening to. Scott Joplin's major new American artform Treemonisha advanced the form and was forgotten unperformed. Could this be the new operatic expression arising from a pop band?
I love psychedelic music. Dark Side of the Moon is a trusted friend. When I listen to Look to the West, I'm in a deeper dream. There is a 20th Century opera called Valis I could compare it to. Nobody will have heard Valis. That's my favorite 20th Century operatic work, just because it's so much fun. I wonder if they will bundle Valis and Chapa together at the Wherehouse?
Perhaps Chapa is the bridge over Roger Waters and Berlioz? Harry Parch? Tom Waits? My friend and a fine songwriter says he fell into a different world listening to this music. Maybe it should come with a warning label.
I have to make up for my inability to describe this music with enthusiasm. This is my fourth "chapter" to this review. That must show something. This album could pry stoners from the mountain of grunge. People like to trip. Is the world ready for Chapa? This is a test of the Internet personal networking system. Tell a friend.
This music must be supported.
The future isn't written. IT MUST BE HEARD!
THE REVIEW (A HALLUCINATION)
"A Look To The West" will take you into the experience of a dream. Words and words and words will pass you by fluttering by like a swarm of snowflake butterflies floating on strings. A gentle woodwind will warm your face as the carnival train rolls on bass drums powered by percussive pistons. Your blood and breath will dance while you glide in thin air with both feet on the beautiful earth. There is no apparent formula for the reorienting, dys-occidental experience. You may find yourself there. Ingest this music. You may find yourself. This album is a poem and by yourself you are a book you read every day as though you were writing it. This is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
If you try to understand a Chapa, you can rob it of it's meaning. Dreams, oceans, sound, emotions and realities come in waves to be experienced deeper than description beneath the bean counting conscious brain where the mind describes feelings only in songs. This "Look To The West" points further to the undiscovered country lost when Pacific beaches were added to the map of the known world. This review is a kind of Condé Nast Guide to the unknown world we feel a little further to the left of the land of time to remember.
In Chapa, driving power chords are delivered by Oboes. Skins, sticks, strings and breath are the fuel to guide us through the winds. The singer is a poet and builder of dreams whose best imaginary friend might be Eric Burden on the field of grass to "Spill the Wine," or David Gilmore from "The Dark Side of the Moon," or Harry Partch of the "Hobo Transcriptions." Crafts for floating and flying while sitting belted in to the upright position are called "songs" here. We think by feeling here, and everyone is in the band of many colored lights and shadows. The sound you here in this music is your song. The song I hear is my song. Follow the bouncing ball and sing along.
There is enough diversity to the controlled chaos of Chapa to embody the coinage: "East is West and West is East and never the twain shall meet." Come together.
I was blown away by this album, and maybe a little hypnotized. I think the review above presents the album properly as dense, deep, beautifully unfamiliar, and breathtakingly rich. I sent the following email to Chapa addressing the question of whether the music was accessible:
I think the album is accessible from the heart. No joke, man, that's where you guys are headed. I've written about 20th Century symphony's with extended tonal and nothing close to a recognizable time signature. You've hit the nail on the head with this music, but it's a new artform somewhere between composition and improvisation with lyrics that stand up on the page like a poem. That's fucking rare! Those are damn art songs like Shubert doing jazzy pop with an orchestra and lyrics by jack Kerouac.
I finished the review and it's was so densely written I didn't see any reason to describe the songs one by one. My job is to make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, and make 'em feel religious. Most of all I try to confuse and compel people to the music. So I went out for a burrito with my artist friend T, and we headed back to his studio and listened to the album while he painted. When the CD was done, T was hooked.
Also, my favorite local songwriter heard the album over lunch. He wrote me this email in response to the review and the music on "Look to the West:"
Nicely done. I don't know WHAT to say about them, except it's amazing, a whole world to fall into, with it's own very ordered sense of logic, familiar and alien all at once.
I've gotta hear more, i think this band's amazing, should be heard by more people, the kids that are hunting for something different and challenging.
I think this album is as accessible as any new videogame with as many levels. This album can't be figured out, but it can easily be felt.
"I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it."~ Igor Stravinsky
Billy Shepard - December 2008
Chapa and his group offer eccentric and against-the-grain music, deploying oboe, cello, and flute in an overall acoustic sound that takes chances and sometimes echoes the work of Jeff Buckley, Badly Drawn Boy and even the Incredible String Band. Chapa’s voice, recorded raw and unadorned, is fine in an alternative context and his lyrics are literate. The tunes seem “live in studio,” yet conjure rich atmospheres, especially the tranquil, Asian-influenced “This World Around.”
Review by Billy Sheppard
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
CHAPA ~ "BELIEVING" ~ MUSIC FROM ELSEWHERE
"I came to the realization (around 1930) that the spoken word was the distinctive expression my constitutional makeup was best fitted for, and that I needed other scales and other instruments." ~ Harry Partch
"I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." ~ John Cage
"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." ~ Berthold Auerbach
The music of Chapa is it's own best definition. If you are blessed with the talent of listening, this combination of half spoken poetry, orchestral themes, thematic development and masterful percussion will clear away the dust in some unoccupied corridor you have probably neglected. That half sung dying fall in the voice, and woodwind song, the bliss of gliss, and the smile of a cello will take you to the garden where poetry grows. You may find the housework more interesting, and feel of your bare feet a little miraculous. A new sound is a new way of thinking.
Russ Chapa, aka Lou Lewis, has spun a bramble of thoughts together in a tumble of poetic observations guided by a voice like Harry Partch's great excursions into the eccentric world of deep thought. There are lots of grand ideas expressed in common words. The songs seek to settle big questions: "Who am I?" and "How did I get here?" The voice may stray from pretty into something just out of the key, but all the while you would do well to follow. Lou has a different key in mind that may unlock something wonderful. Partch's "Hobo Transcriptions" went there years ago, but never made it to your Top 40 radio.
The truth often disobeys the structure of expectations, but this is an honest deviation. These are art songs with a broad scope perfectly set on a bed of winds and strings. If you relax a little, you can let go of the arm of you chair and float a little in less restricted thought, where images bubble up and smiles come from joy and wonder. If you can let go of that same familiar new thing you've grown so very comfortable hearing, this music from elsewhere may leave you believing.
There are themes and counter-themes in the words and music. You may think of The Moody Blues, and the flute may occasionally remind you of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, but this journey encompasses the wonder of Western "classical" expression, with an occasional eclipse of a less familiar Balinese lunar influence. Altogether, Chapa plays for the high stakes, where the song questions itself, and the singer seeks his own identity.
At this point, I would normally write about each song. I don't see the value of that. The best definition of a poem is the poem itself. The four songs on Chapa's EP "Believing" are available to be heard on their site. There is no way to quote a little without cheapening the story. If you are ready to listen, these songs will open your stony brain like a geode, and show you that sparkle inside
THE SONGS ARE:
OLD FRIEND DEAR FRIEND
THE RAIN'S WAY
THIS WORLD AROUND YOU
A LOOK TO THE WEST
Virus Zine online Interview... Click...
Apart from the greatness in the musicianship that dwells beside the lyrical cleverness, this album is a very worthy addition to the prog-rock and fretboard explorer’s classics table. Chapa is not Roger Water's cousin or Frank Zappa's ex guitarist.. he's Chapa.. and he's brilliant!
Rising up Between is the first track on the album. It is the first introduction to Chapa‘s world of the interpretative rendition of every great sound that ever came out of the listening equipment used throughout his life (thus far). It is also a wonderful glimpse into the astonishing musicianship conveyed in every aspect of each and every strand of the track’s multitracked collective. Only Me on the other hand, is the only track on the album that takes a sway toward the likes of the Bob Dylan backgrounds, scratching the back of The Goo Goo Dolls that are sitting on the vocal chords of Geddy Lee-like sound.
Edna’s Thrill. I’ve honestly never heard hints from the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in amalgamation with a track of this run-amok-like character before. It is the very reason that psychedelic drugs became such a necessity to have around when enjoying the music that the 60s and 70s had to bring us.
Honestly, eclecticism is a wonderful attribute to a track’s portfolio of sound. I can honestly say that I have not had a great deal of exposure to the cello in my day and, as of right now, that level of celloistic ignorance is completely unsatisfactory and must be dealt with as soon as possible.
Masqueraders Downfall is a balancing act that involves smashing guitar playing, broad lyrical expression, and ethnic inflections walking the tight rope that is representative of the flow of the track. Well you wish thee! Pertains to great percussional abilities and, once again, the allure of an excellent handelment of guitar-playing-craftsmanship that binds the track’s separate entities together in an effort to form it’s glossy finish.
From Your Cloud (to mine) may just seem like a short trip to some but it’s not because the ride is so smooth you wish for it to last an eternity so that you can soak it all in. All 3 Faces has a very groovy-like rhythm with harmonies that arise from the dark clouds that adorn the tracks ‘Planet Caravan’ reminiscent guitar riffs.
A Pause in Life is the last track on this album’s send off. It is a representation of how personally expressive Chapa’s lyric style is. He does not hold back in what he means to say but he does seem to care quite deeply about how others perceive and receive it. I guess that’s why they call it “Freedom of Speech” when in this album's case.. it’s freedom of sound.
Elley Wilson - May 29 2006
International Online Magazine
My first thoughts upon exploring A Buyer's Ride was, "What the hell kind of hicked-out shit is this?" Two tracks in, I was fixated on this. Why does an album from the former bassist of Ojo sound so country?
However, with the opening of "Edna's Thrill," it became apparent that there was much more to this album than twang (even Russ Chapa's voice twangs with the best of them). Soon, it was a folk album with country leanings. It grew stranger and stranger with each track. As it came to a close, I didn't even know what to call it. Folk with touches of Incubus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nuclear Rabbit, only without sounding like any of those bands or their vocalists? It goes beyond categorization while avoiding the cliché "undescribable" tag most bands would get when they "go beyond categorization." It's a bluesy rock album with twang and a kick to the pants. That's what Chapa is. From country twang to tripped-out psychedelia, Chapa shows off an impressive array of vocal styles, at times sounding like a mix of his old band Ojo and Primus ("A Pause in Life").
Chapa is by no means the next Velvet Underground or anything (slightly-off vocals...Neil Young...Close, but no cigar), or the next anything, really. It's just a very eclectic and surprisingly good solo album from the bassist of a band that had about two hundred fans. If you liked Ojo, you'll like this. If you hated Ojo, don't let that stop you from searching this out. If you have no idea who Ojo is, but you like eclectic alt-folk or whatever you crazy kids call it, spin Chapa a few times. See if it dizzies you up.
--Ben Rice, Decoy Music
Thanks to the magic of the internet, the unknown band OJO, were revealed to me mixing a lot of different styles with success of their debut album, Minutia. The group themselves split up 4 years ago. A very sad day for OJO, which had some special music with the potential to conquer many eager ears. With the fall of OJO, the different members went in different directions (Spore333 - www.myspace.com/spore333, Principle -www.myspace.com/principle, Brian Wright and the Waco Tragedies - www.brianwrightmusic.com, and the one that interests us: Chapa - www.chapamusic.com). The former bassist, Russ Chapa, found his way into the studio and returns to take over our ears with 9 titles, A Buyer's Ride, less crazy, but still very interesting and out of the Norm.
It's difficult to find the affiliation between these two formations. Chapa plays in a completely different register, where as OJO mixed metal, funk, and jazz to a more quiet calm. In his album, A Buyer's Ride, Chapa delivers us a Music very well put together and completely Zen. In these 9 titles, Chapa is playing everything from folk music, to country with some Tahitian or Gypsy music, and in a lot of different styles. It is nearly impossible to describe the music with precision, mixing percussion, cello, organ and guitar to carefully crafted stories. Chapa's sound is reminiscent of the experimental Vinyl's of the 70's, such as Silver Mt. Zion, with his aerial quotations that are falsely minimalist. Calming could be the adequate adjective to describe A Buyer's Ride. Chapa's soft voice and the lightness of certain pieces is to appease even the crazy Americans. Chapa's level of words soar with tunes like, From Your Cloud (A dedicated piece to his Father), and the delirious Edna's Thrill (A Ouija Board Ghost Story). A Buyer's Ride finishes up with A Pause In Life. A piece grouping together all the elements of the CD as a conclusion of this album. And despite some lengths and repetitions, A Buyer's Ride allows the discovery of a sincere Artist, touching people liking music without apparent flourishment but internally rich, or those who just simply like musical experiments."
--Eric Cambray June 06, 2005
French E-Zine: Metalorgie.com
Chapa "A Buyers Ride"
One listen to "A Buyer Ride" will give good insight into the mind of former Ojo bassist Russ Chapa. You never really know what to expect... you'll hear pure folk, country and elegant rock among others. I found myself very involved and interested to see how the disc would end. I was on the ride that Chapa had created. Guided by his voice (a little like the tame side of Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate). "A Buyer's Ride" is introspective, ethereal, a cloudless trip into a peaceful place but nonetheless interesting and worth a second listen. R.I.Y.L.: Nuclear Rabbit, The Eels
Downtown LA Life Magazine