What with Goldfrapp, Zero 7 and the alleged long awaited return of Portishead imminent, you’d think there wouldn’t be much room for another languid, laid back band with a female vocalist. Chungking, a three piece from Brighton, not only share the sound of the aforementioned three groups, but also their quality.
Chungking’s story has all the twists and turns of a soap opera – formed when Sean Hennessey and James Stephenson were struggling along when Hennessey overheard his girlfriend Jessie Banks singing in the kitchen. With Banks onboard they cut some demos which a friend of the band took to Japan. They were handed to a DJ, and the head of Tummy Touch sought them out and signed them on the basis of their early demos.
In the middle of recording We Travel Fast, Hennessey and Banks split up and for a while it looked as if the band were finished before they’d even begun. Thankfully Chungking survived to produce one of the most striking debuts of the year.
Portishead are the most obvious comparison – Banks may not the extraordinary range and power of Beth Gibbons, but then not many people have. Instead Banks has a strong and sultry voice, the sort that’s reminiscent of falling into a warm bath, and utterly suited to the songs gathered here.
Henenessey and Stephenson’s backings range from the woozy orchestral sound of Angel Eyes, the Burt Bacharach-ish Sixties stylings of We Love You and the noodling jazz/funk of Suite. The production effects keep things interesting too, with Banks’ voice being speeded up on Let The Love In and then slowed down on Full On – it makes a change from a vocoder being employed anyway.
It’s that most old fashioned concept though that makes this album so good – damn fine songs. The opening Making Music gets off to a restrained start before bursting into it’s chorus, and previous single World Of A Thousand Suns has a slightly menacing air about it. Chungking leave the best to last though with the highly emotional and obviously deeply personal Following closing the album.
The phrase ‘chill out’ has become a byword for bland insipid music in recent years, so hopefully Chungking won’t just be filed away under that pigeonhole. We Travel Fast is a beautiful and impressive debut album that deserves to cross over into the mainstream soon.