Chisel
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
8 AM All Day , 5/10
Set You Free , 6/10
Ted Leo: Tej Leo (?) Rx/Pharmacists (1999), 6/10
Ted Leo: The Tyranny Of Distance (2001), 6/10
Ted Leo: Hearts of Oak (2003), 6.5/10
Ted Leo: Shake the Sheets (2004), 6/10
Ted Leo: Living With The Living (2007), 5/10
Ted Leo: The Brutalist Bricks (2010) , 4.5/10
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Ted Leo (guitar) is a poppy mod-rocker a` la Jam, Chris Norborg (bass) is a dub and funk artist, and John Dugan (drums) is a frantic punk-rocker. Chisel, hailing from the emocore scene of Washington (DC), debuted with the catchy punk-pop of Sunburn (Gern Bandsten, 1995)

A bit of new wave surfaces on 8 AM All Day (Gern Bandsten, 1996), especially with Looking Down At The Great Wall, but 8 AM All Day and Your Star Is Killing Me show that their key assett remains the melody.

The progression continues on Set You Free (Gern Bandsten, 1997), a tour de force (17 songs) of mildly punkish pop that often sounds similar to Blondie and XTC fans (On Warmer Music, Do Go On). The refrains, in the meantime, are catchier than ever (It's All Right You're Ok and The OTS the singles).

Ted Leo released the solo album Tej Leo (?) Rx/Pharmacists (Gern Blandsten, 1999), a project of experimental lo-fi folk music in which simple themes are drowned into samples, found noises and electronic filters (The Pharmacist Vs The Secret Stars, Nice People, The King Of Time), a technique also displayed in the instrumental cover of Bob Marley's Mr Brown (retitled Mr Annoyatron Brown), and crowned by the six-minute noise collage SM 11:11/ The Trumpet of the Martians and the supernatural fog of Congressional Dubcision.
Leo changed course, though, on the EP Treble in Trouble (Ace Fu, 2000) and on his second album: The Tyranny Of Distance (Lookout, 2001), a sincere work of self-analysis that takes a hint or two from Steve Wynn in the lengthy Stove By A Whale and the anthemic Timorous Me, introduced a sophisticated tunesmith.
Hearts of Oak (Lookout, 2003) is a mature collection that presents Leo as a generational voice a` la Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty, via the touching moral/political sermons of Building Skyscrapers in the Basement and The Ballad of the Sin Eater, but also capable of genuine pop gems, such as the six-minute Hearts of Oak, Dead Voices and the closing The Crane Takes Flight. His band (Dave Lerner on bass, Chris Wilson on drums, Dorein Garry on keyboards) is now up to the task, as shown in The High Party, I'm A Ghost, First To Finish Last To Start and, best, Tell Balgeary Balgury Is Dead. His synthesis of old-fashioned rock'n'roll energy, folk-rock elocution, power-pop suasiveness and contemporary neuroses evokes the similar operation carried out in the late 1970s by Tom Petty.

By the standards of its predecessor, Shake the Sheets (Lookout, 2004) is a disappointment. Classic Leo touches such as the sardonic anthem Me and Mia and the usual assortment of infectious refrains (Counting Down the Hours) and beats (The Angel's Share) fail to coalesce beyond their (brief) moment of glory. Worse: they are surrounded by bland protest-songs (Bleeding Powers, with one of Leo's best guitar workouts, Little Dawn) and dull rockers (Better Dead Than Lead). However, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and Leo's album ends up sounding like the ideal soundtrack for his times.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists' Living With The Living (Touch & Go, 2007) stretches Leo's art in all directions but remains faithful to its power-pop center. The hysterical discharges of riffs that pummel The Sons Of Cain and the punkish Who Do You Love, that sounds like a cross between the Kinks and the Clash, and the frantic Dead Kennedys-ian hardcore of Bomb Repeat Bomb constitute an album within the album, a progression towards harsher and harsher feelings of distress (whether in the private or public sphere). However, the poppy Colleen, the reggae shuffle The Unwanted Things and the power-ballad The Toro and the Toreador paint another picture of the artist, one that is both more conventional and more sedate.

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists' The Brutalist Bricks (Matador, 2010) boasted the punkish verve of The Mighty Sparrow but the rest was lame, blunt and shallow.

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