Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cha-Cha: We Are...

From the first moment of pressing "Play" on Cha-Cha's We Are... we felt a pang of guilt. Not for any rational reason, but largely because of where the pursuit of musicality has gone in popular music in the past few years. Wait. Let's take a step back.

In the past 5-10 years, "difficult" music has gotten it's due. Bands that challenge the ear have (often rightfully so) been put on a pedestal for their experimentation and pushing of boundaries. The occurence of a song that everyone loves that also has musical worth has been few and far between. However, the times that are most cherished musically in recent history are those that found this middle ground. The space where popular music was good music defined our most fruitful eras. Take the late sixties, or the early eighties. At these times, many of the bands that dominated the airwaves were not only musically adventurous, but also accessible and wildly popular.

From this perspective, the past ten years have been a bit of a dark age. The "important" music has been somewhat relegated from the "hit" music. So much so that those pursuing the "important" artists (even when those artists were on major labels) were wont to classify themselves as "indie". But, as a great man once said, the times they are a changing. In the past year or two, if you hadn't noticed, indie has gone mainstream. What was once a marker of academic musicality and snobbery in the back rooms of tiny bars is now shared by millions of fans around the world. Moreover, the music is evolving so that it's not just experimental, but poppy and fun as well.

The unfortunate downside of this evolution is that those who loved the indie scene oh-so-much are quick to be disgusted by the emergence of popularity of good music. As such, there is now a knee jerk reaction to anything that is easy, fun, or accessible, regardless of its musicality and worth. And such was the reaction as we entered into Cha-Cha's We Are... Ugh! Could it be true? Are we really snobs and elitists, afraid of delight and pop sensibility? No, dear reader, we are not, and that is why we were quickly won over by this delightful pop record that deserves a place in your collection.

We Are... is a pop gem, in that it does everything good pop music should do: it sticks in your head, it makes you want to dance, it unabashedly recalls its forefathers, and it takes simplicity and builds hooks that are like bite size pieces of bliss. It is a record that delights in the synth poppy goodness of the early 80's, when even Bowie couldn't help himself from making a dance record. Moreover, it doesn't use danceability as a crutch. Rather, it takes an resolutely tight pop band, and uses the synths the way they should be used: as accents and building blocks to a bigger picture.

That bigger picture is exactly what makes Cha-Cha's record so enjoyable. Despite bouncing across genres almost relentlessly, the band has a unifying sound that unquestionably defines them as musicians. The tightly knit rhythm section serves as an underpinning for perfectly synchronized guitar lines, while the vocals provide a swagger and earnestness that successfully counterbalances the instrumental intricacies.

Put differently, Cha-Cha has put forth a record that plays many different strengths against each other, and is stronger for it. The result is an album that has a clear reverence for the past 30 years of pop music, and more importantly rock and roll. It's high time popular music and quality music started sharing a bed again. Perhaps the dark age is coming to a close.