Sound — 8
As I type this review, it is gray, chilly and rainy outside. Honestly, I'd rather be outside enjoying some warm sunshine, but the weather has me a little... monochrome. And yet, if there's one band that can be counted on to turn even the most damp of days into a day at the beach, the musical equivalent of a warm ray of sunshine, it's San Diego math-rockers CHON. However, it hasn't always been this way, as CHON had started in a bit more of a metallic vein, echoing bands such as The Fall of Troy. The progression of this band may be lost on those who started with their first full-length, 2015's "Grow", where the band had already firmly entrenched their sunny disposition, but for those who had been with them since their early demos and the 2013 "Newborn Sun" EP, this new album, "Homey", may be a bit of a difficult pill to swallow at times.
The band's trademark combination of math rock a la Don Caballero and current progressive rock/shred artists like Polyphia remains largely unaltered on the album's opening track "Sleepy Tea" and the wonderfully bouncy "Waterslide", though largely featuring clean guitars from Mario Camarena and Erick Hansel, the band decidedly changes their formula up rather quickly in the course of the album, incorporating electronic percussion and sampled vocals on the track "Berry Streets" (courtesy of GoYama, also a wonderful jazz guitarist in his own right), and this heralds the kind of changes that CHON are incorporating on "Homey". Even on some of the album's more "traditional" tracks, the band incorporates elements of this electronic production style with washes of ambient synths and noise on "No Signal" and "Checkpoint". "Nayhoo" takes this electronic element to its logical conclusion with CHON themselves almost taking a backseat to electronic beats and guest vocals from trap/house artist Lophiile and R&B singer Masego.
"Here and There" sees the band return a bit to their prog rock/jazz fusion-inspired style, while "The Space" utilizes more of the band's newfound love of electronic music production wizardry to great effect, and features some delicious crunchy lead guitar playing. Trap/R&B producer Giraffage leaves his indelible mark on "Feel This Way", though again it seems as if CHON has completely taken a backseat position in the track. This is not a bad thing, as the mix of electronic music and beautiful clean guitar playing is great, but it does leave one wondering where the band is on the track. "Continue?" (possibly a video game reference, as the band has been known to host Super Smash Bros. tournaments on tour) seems to suit the weather I write this review to the most, a rather plaintive piece that's a bit more "sad" than the others on the album, and features a very pretty section with bells about three minutes in that I quite enjoy. "Glitch" features a hip-hop vibe courtesy of another guest appearance, this time with electronic producer ROM. "Wave Bounce" ends the album on a rather traditional note for the band, largely devoid of the electronic experimentation, and actually seems to give drummer Nathan Camarena and bassist Esiah Camarena (both brothers of guitarist Mario) ample room to flex their musical muscles.
The writing is great, with a lot of tension and release in the music throughout, and the way the band incorporates electronic elements is superb, and even on a track like "Nayhoo", where the band almost takes a complete backseat to the beats and R&B vocals, the backdrop is still undeniably CHON. The increased use of clean guitars has led to a mix that's very clean and full of headroom, and a much clearer sound that still somehow feels quite warm.
Lyrics — 8
The majority of the album is instrumental, save for the track "Nayhoo" featuring Masego and Lophiile, and a few sampled vocals on "Berry Streets" and "Glitch". Without bassist Drew Pelisek, who left the band in 2016, the band lost their primary vocalist, though Erick and Esiah have stepped up to the plate to perform Drew's vocals live. Neither of them sing on "Homey", however, and the R&B-tinged vocals on "Nayhoo" are a bit of a vast departure for the band, taking them into pop territory. Lyrically, the song is pretty typical of the pop style as well, with a very catchy chorus melody that exemplifies the album's fairly positive vibes: "Can't nobody replicate this feeling/Got me feeling high, never low/I just want to say I really really really love you baby". Honestly, it would have been nice to hear Erick and Esiah perform some vocals for the album (and to be honest, I'm not sure where the samples that pop up on the other tracks come from, and they could very well be those two members' voices), but we'll have to wait for their next album to see if they'll lend their voices to any CHON material.
Overall Impression — 8
While the sky outside is still grey as I finish up this review, I feel slightly sunnier within, having had some time with "Homey". There's something about this band's material that's fresh, positive, and sunny, something that you feel could only come from a band living in a place like Southern California. You could put the needle at any point on this album and get that "surf's up!" feeling, and in a perfect world, a track like "Nayhoo" would be a massive summer pop hit, and you'd expect to hear this record spin at many summer backyard barbecues and pool parties.
Even so, CHON have done a pretty good job with this record, and the incorporation of electronic and R&B elements seem to work brilliantly with the band's positive, vibey music, though it would be nice to hear a bit more of a synergistic combination of the two elements next time around, and the fact that the electronic elements seem to completely push CHON out of the way at times would likely be my biggest gripe with the album. Even so, this is wonderful music, and along with recent material by Sithu Aye and Polyphia, this should be a big summer hit for modern guitar aficionados!