Early Chisel has always given me an instant energy boost. There's something about these recordings' lo-fi guitar, full-throated choruses and refreshingly earnest excitement that lifts the heart and lightens the feet. I was agonizing over which song I'd highlight today before I realized that having your own blog means nothing having to say your sorry, so you'll get two classics. They come from Chisel's debut long-playing release, 1995's Nothing New (it's officially an EP but at 12 songs including an uncredited Who cover, it's funcitonally an album), which collected their early singles and stray tracks from the band's early South Bend period. The whole thing is a slice of buzzy mid-90's indie heaven but "Innocents Abroad" and "Bliss" in particular stand out for their hooks and guitar work.
As a night person rarely able to muster more than a wan smile before 10 AM, it's saying something when I tell you that the song's optimism is infectious. Leo's like a little kid who wakes up early on a Saturday morning full of joyous energy and immediately starts jostling his friend to wake up and join him. "We're all here and where are you" he asks before answering "you're sleeping in and missing out". Halfway through the song you're ready to apologize and buy the guy another latte. The caffeinated air is enhanced by his biting guitar cutting like a sonic scythe through you mind, leaving you disoriented but amp'd up. It stands the test of time however as the guitar work and optimism still manage to shine through on this acoustic version recorded two years ago.
If Ted was an overactive kid in "Innocents", he's moved on to slightly cynical, advice-dispensing older brother in "Bliss". "Take you time / do it right / it's not impossible" he notes "and starting small might be the key". Although this might be standard-issue, but solid D.I.Y. scene advice, he then takes it to the next level "I used to bulls-eye / womp rats in my / T-16 back home" he continues "and there not much bigger than me", reasoning that if Luke Skywalker could take down the Death Star, we can all do what we have in front of us. Let's just pause for a moment here. I'll wait. What you've just witnessed, dear reader, is the best Star Wars reference in music history and it deserves to be acknowledged. OK, moving on.
In each verse he deals with a problem - a breakup, a jerky kid, etc, and ends resolving the issue by dismissing it and moving on to the redemptive chorus. The buildup after each verse involve Leo wringing every sonic pyrotechnic possible out of his cheap guitar, building up each musical release with a blur of impossibly fast shredding that mental images of sparks flying off the pick guard until the chorus hits. "It's a different kind of feeling" he yells over the racket, reveling in the freedom of letting his problems go. We can see the same joy he felt in "Innocents" (ie. "makes me jump and touch the ceiling") only here it comes from rejecting things holding him back and reveling in his own freedom ("and if I fall, well then I fall"). It's sentiment that's tailor-made for that adolescent/collegiate part of that is constantly looking define our identity, particularly through righteous rejection. At times we all need that quick ego-boost to remind ourselves what the point of it all is. And never has it felt better than screaming along with Ted on one of the most satisfying kiss-off lines ever set to music.
"I heard you party wasn't such a Goddamn thrill!"
Innocents Abroad - Chisel Buy Nothing New [EP]
Innocents Abroad [Live Acoustic] - Ted Leo Support WFMU
Bliss - Chisel