A young man with a guitar – or any other means of expression, really – runs the risk of compensating for limited living by trying to sound older. Reading a 25 year old who’s been reading Hemingway is about as insufferable as listening to a 25 year who’s been listening to Leonard Cohen. But on his first, self-titled album Sasha Chapin’s writing and performance never feels out of proportion. Here he presents a purview that’s becoming familiar with the trees before sweating the forest. The airless room sound of the recordings themselves go a long way to keeping the songs in a sparse, specific space, giving the album an admirable wholeness.
There’s a specific ambiguity to Chapin’s delivery that often sounds genderless and ageless, and will briefly, but never permanently, evoke comparison. He has a vocal flutter that flirts with a warble, at times reminiscent of Devendra Banhart on his first albums, but there are also spates of monotone lethargy that bring to mind Sibylle Baier. Here and there there’ll be the lisping urgency of a teenaged Conor Oberst or the soft shyness of Stuart Murdoch, but Chapin always stays himself, a uniqueness that’s bolstered by songwriting that particular, sometimes peculiar, but never ornate.
I like the stiff cacophony of the Velvet Underground as much as the next guy who would never dare say he didn’t, but the standout for me from that manic catalogue is the Lou Reed-written, Mo Tucker-performed “After Hours.” It’s a small presentation of a small moment, but there’s a barely tangible, sinister feeling to it in the context of the Velvet’s greater catalogue. Even the sweetness and smallness of that song belies an implied darkness. In some ways Chapin’s album is like a collection of 13 “After Hours.” These are sometimes catchy, sometimes somber submissions of modest interactions, slight details, and yet – even though Chapin doesn’t have a catalogue of dark, roaring, kink- and drug-describing catalogue that I know of – there are these impressive, suggestive cloud shadows drifting over the album.
The triumph of Chapin’s limited approach gets so close to the bigness of that “After Hours” smallness. It reduces the world to one, specific quiet room in which the muffled sounds of the greater tumult outside is ambiently present inside.