Chalk – Black Box Broken

Black Box Broken

When I was a youngster, I was an obsessive compulsive Chicago White Sox fan. In my mind, players like Bobby Thigpen and Greg Walker were superheroes. I could go on for hours talking statistics about the team, and I could argue for days about why the White Sox were superior to any other team in baseball. I played little league myself, too, and I was a decent utility player, I guess (‘Utility’ of course, meaning ‘can play every position, but not especially good at any of them’). My uncle dubbed me ‘Fred Manrique’ after the White Sox scrawny, scrappy utility player at the time, and 13 years later, I still wear the nickname at family events. Now, what does this have to do with Chalk, you say?
Chalk’s Black Box Broken is a musical attempt at becoming as versatile as Fred Manrique. The sounds on this disc bounce all over the place, from abstract outer space blurbs (“Son of Mothra”) and fuzzy electro-blasts (“I Saw it Coming”) to oddball pop songs with fiery choruses (“Crybaby King”). There’s no one point on the CD that really settles down, as the general direction of Chalk seems to literally change from song to song in most cases. Oddly enough, there is still a semblance of familiarity to the disc that keeps things from sounding choppy.
Just about the first third of Black Box Broken seems to lean towards a nu-wave electro-based sound, though the real standout tracks don’t really start up until track five, “Crybaby King.” Various guitar and effects noises wind around a low, throbbing bassline, while forced vocals lead the track into the suddenly crunching guitar-powered chorus that multiplies the already brooding intensity level. This leads to the best track on the disc, “Eyelid,” which sounds like Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” as translated by the Wellwater Conspiracy. Like the previous track, there’s an intense droning that’s quickly derailed by a stiff wall of guitars that wail like fire alarms. Singer Dave Rohs voice almost resembles Chris Cornell’s at points here, especially wailing into the guitar frenzies – certainly some powerful stuff. In this, Black Box Broken surpasses Fred Manrique, as he was never much of a power hitter.
“Kiss” is a quick jaunt into Cop Shoot Cop territory, while “Bind” is a simply straight-up creepy keyboard-drenched track with eerie vocals. The most disturbing piece of “Bind,” though, is the ‘computer voice’ that fades in and out throughout the song, reciting apparently random numbers. If there’s one completely cold, callous sounding track on Black Box Broken, this is it, and the effect is pretty disconcerting. Fred Manrique never seemed too cold and callous, though. I bet if I’d have ever met him and asked him for his autograph, he would have given it to me and smiled.
“Telly Eats Heston” is a real nu-wave guitar rocker, while “Silver” just goes straight up balls-out rock. “20 Second Man” grooves on a very laid-back vibe and trippy false-soprano vocals, though it comes off as sort of a goof track after the few guitar-based songs in front of it. “Pink Synthetic Genius” sounds like something you’d hear in a dance club, though admittedly, I found my sorry white self trying desperately to groove to it a few times. (If you’re wondering, it was unsuccessful. There are two things in life that I just can’t do – Karaoke and dance. Doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying, though.) Of course, these off-the-wall tracks earn the band a few extra Fred Manrique ‘utility points’.
“Hacker” finds Black Box Broken heading back to the guitars for a bit for another new-wave indie rocker, though the band really loses it with the album ending “Latex Muzzle,” an arena anthem rock-ish slow builder that sends the disc out with quite a bit more pop than Fred Manrique ever had in his bat.
Well, aspiring to be like Fred Manrique is no easy task, and while Black Box Broken is certainly a very good record, I don’t necessarily know that Chalk is quite the utility player that it seems to be attempting to be. Sure, there are a lot of electro/nu-wave elements thrown into the mix here, but the band really only hits full throttle when they drop the nu-wave delusions and start rocking. Black Box Broken starts off a bit slow, but from “Crybaby King” onward, everything’s pretty much a keeper. If I knew Fred Manrique personally, I’ll bet he’d be proud to have Chalk’s Black Box Broken in his CD collection. Recommended.