Chung Antique is a band somewhat out of place in 2014. This isn’t meant to be a reductive statement; some of the best bands don’t fit easily within their given cultural landscape. On their latest offering, Sweater Weather, the band weaves complex instrumental landscapes that feel more at home with mid-90s groups like Don Cabellero or Couch, among others saddled with the baggage of post-rock.
The music is instantly emotional, and in the album’s opener “Former Farmer” the band carefully walks the line between emotional resonance and “emo” as a genre trope. Of course I am not talking about emo in the sense of the genre post-Promise Ring and Hot Water Music polka-dotted by teens with asymmetrical haircuts, but emo in the sense of sweaters, glasses, Converse, and conversations about “discordant music.”
Sweater Weather’s production is clean and precise, not unlike the music itself, which relies heavily on constantly shifting time signatures, serving as a perfect sonic bed to place the band’s ideas. As a go-to form of music criticism, many find the “idea” in the lyrics of a band. But, as an instrumental group, you have to look at the emotion of a song to find Chung Antique’s idea. The past Chung Antique output has always been full of great ideas couched with a recording that never lived up to the potential of the songs. Thankfully Sweater Weather rights this wrong and marks the band’s first “official” album.
Circular and cyclical, the album is warm and, despite a lack of vocals, not without lyrical wit. Of course this comes across in the subtle interplay and timing of the bass and guitar, nestled by a very complimentary style of drumming. Sweater Weather is a literate group of songs that don’t rely on melancholy as a main trope. A song like “Stop Making Synths” holds the obvious cornerstones of the genre, but lying buried in the mix the ambient strings help give the song a more robust push that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
There is something decidedly understated about Sweater Weather. In the album’s climax, augmented with large swing swells that push to what one would expect to be a long drawn out climatic statement akin to Godspeed You Black Emperor, the band pulls back and cuts it off, leaving the listener to wonder what could have happened next. Perhaps that’s the magic of a record like Sweater Weather, that despite all the obvious tricks of the trade and genre staples, every once in a while a curveball is thrown, making the album stand out in your mind for days after you last listened to it.
In a popular-musical landscape that celebrates excess and lyrical explorations of power and wealth, a three-piece instrumental band can almost seem like an anachronism. Because of this, Chung Antique feel more sincere and original than a glut of other groups active today. Sweater Weather doesn’t have any dance tracks, reverb heavy surf tones, or anything that would place it in a current trend. The band is more aligned with a generation of fans who are still looking for bands like Unwound to retake the cultural conversation.