Styled as ‘Dadaist pop’ (the Bandcamp preview of this album compresses all 41 minutes into three and a half) and coming across as only a band led by one Johannes von Weizsäcker surely can, The Chap are a singular proposition. Their primary concerns to date may be modern alternative’s most meta; on the one hand obervational, uber-arch verse-chorus oddness (‘I Am Oozing Emotion’, ‘Fun And Interesting’), on the other satire about modern musical tropes (‘Woop Woop’, ‘Proper Rock’), always studded with detached one-liners in clearly enunciated, deliberately higher class accents and enveloped inside carefully multi-layered electronic new wave prog-pop with beats and sudden diversions. “Let’s party!” centrally declares a song called ‘Nevertheless, The Chap’. The press release may refer to Well Done Europe as their “sell out”, but suffice to say only so in their peculiar minds.
Last proper album Mega Breakfast was founded on mock motivational phrases and ideas of self-betterment. Some of that is taken to its logical conclusion on ‘Well Done You’, firing off banal apprisal compliments over a dark bassline. Otherwise, this one seems to be taking the opposite tack. “You will never have a job… we’ll see to that cos we hate you” glories ‘We’ll See To Your Breakdown’ amid slices of cut-up voices and violin stabs. “We had a holiday, it’s like dementia” offers ‘Pain Fun’, which you could call deceptively laid back, possessing a killer hook as it does, were it not for the title and sentiments. ‘Even Your Friend’ boasts drums that seem to be going at twice the speed of the rest of the song, pulsing synth and an increasingly frantic chorus that asks if we’re “ready for the summertime love” when the rest of the song doesn’t seem so at all.
Some of this may sound like a band whose alliance with the pop music artform is at ironic arms’ length, but listening closer it’s clearer as the work not of a band who only see pop as something to deconstruct as much as they clearly admire it and just want to subvert it from inside. Even when the sentiments are odd and offhand you can dance in a certain way to a lot of it. The taut bass of ‘Gimme Legs’ blossoms into a cymbal decorated chorus that on some level oddly recalls Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha shorn of retro-futuristic kitsch. ‘Nevertheless, The Chap’ boils down some sequenced grooves to their primary state, capping a series of disconnected statements with a blank faced choral “watch the girls go by, and then time goes by, and then we die” as a euphoric chorus coda. The Richard Dawkins namechecking ‘Obviously’ may have a Mediterranean feel, but ‘We Work In Bars’ (“side projects too!”) goes the whole Balearic hog with a big summer radio anthem chorus, replete with twisty acoustic guitar. Elsewhere the leftfield funk-punk of prime Eno-produced Talking Heads’ influence is pervasive, filtered through more modern beats, danceable rhythms and the occasional twist of yacht rock in commendably short spells before being broken up by a sound effect or shivering synth line.
Pretentious? Well, there’s no point denying The Chap are so arch and self-reflexively knowing in their references (“I remember Hall & Oates”) and approach that any further and they’d be Andy Kaufman. On the other hand it’s post-modernism coming right round the back and giving itself a kick up the arse, the sort of thing that is only pretending to find everything secretly laughable. Four albums in they still don’t really have any immediate comparable bedfellows, so peculiar and impractical is their take. If push came to shove any newcomer would still be guided towards Mega Breakfast first, a more direct middle ground between the surreally knowing outposts and the unique glitchy electro art-rock melange. Even so Well Done Europe is kind of its evil twin, a very ‘wrong’ record in many ways, but ultimately very right.