Fronting Oxford’s Jonquil wasn’t quite enough for Hugo Manuel and so he found himself exploring chillwave on his lonesome. As a result Chad Valley quickly became a name to watch and the band’s early lo-fi releases had Manuel lined up alongside the likes of Washed Out as some kind of Nu-Balearic movement.
That sound is still present on Young Hunger, most notably on closing track Manimals (which features Pat Grossi from Active Child). Here, Manuel is still floating around on sunbeams, hovering above the baking sands of the Med, and considering where the next hangover is going to come from.
Elsewhere, it would appear that things have changed a little for Manuel and Chad Valley and that the focus has shifted considerably. Firstly, Young Hunger is the sound of Chad Valley indulging fully in the 1980s synth pop sound. As such, the production is highly polished and everything appears to be utterly disposable. This is something of a problem for a number of these songs, because Manuel frequently attempts to aim for something with some kind of emotional resonance. If your main tools are a dance beat and an ’80s synth, when you apply a pop hook and a soft filter, you’ll end up evoking images of a bloke dancing about in a suit with the sleeves rolled up looking disturbingly, and incorrectly self assured. It wouldn’t matter if you were singing about the untimely death of Bambi – there would be a distinct lack of punch, which is exactly what happens with Young Hunger on almost every single song.
The second change sees Chad Valley calling in the recruits to help out. This makes the title of second track, Tell All Your Friends sound a little like an advert on Gumtree. A number of these songs feature Manuel’s mates, but bizarrely they occupy such a similar tonal range, it’s practically impossible to tell when or if the collaboration has actually started. Take My Girl for example which features Fixers‘ Jack Goldstein. Other than referencing the Spice Girls with the line “if you wanna be my girl, then you gotta get with my friends” and deploying an alarming amount of autotune, it does absolutely nothing and utterly fails to register. It is asinine to the point of nausea, which is a shame, because as this year’s Fixers album displayed, Goldstein himself clearly understands how to make effective pop music.
El Perro Del Mar crops up on Evening Surrender, a song that attempts to sound sensual and a bit saucy in an Alexander O’Neal kind of way but is about as erotic as a pan-flute in some skiddy Y-Fronts. Fall 4 U borrows Glasser (Cameron Mesirow) to help out but squanders the opportunity badly by under-utilising her fine vocal abilities. To be fair, it isn’t a bad approximation of ’80s soft focus pop but it lacks heart. It might have made it onto an early Now That’s What I Call Music album with the note “reached number 17 for one week”.
My Life Is Complete features Orlando Higginbottom of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and another vocal that is pretty similar in tone to that of Manuel himself. Once again there’s a lack of focus, but at least this time there’s a well worked chorus to grab on to. It’s down to Anne Lise Frøkedal from Harrys Gym to really make an impression, and there’s no doubt that her turn on Fathering/Mothering is the high point of the album. Vocally it’s beautiful executed, whilst musically it seems that Manuel steered clear of any notions of ’80s influence and wrote for the vocal performance instead. The result is something not too dissimilar to Björk‘s early solo work with heavy basslines, ethereal electronics and skittering percussion. Along with Manimals, it’s the finest moment here by some distance.