The Phantom Tollbooth
August 1999 Pick of the Month

Point #1
Artist: Chevelle
URL: http://www.squinterland.com
Label: Squint
Time: 11 Tracks/42:37 minutes

Chevelle has been hailed as Christian's music Tool, but are they really? The surface comparisons are there: the high whispered vocals, the taut atmospheric guitars, the sudden rhythm changes.  But the Tool comparisons end there. Producer Steve Albini has infused a definite grunge sound into the bands songs, as evidenced by the dirty-sounding drums and the thick fuzz surrounding the guitars when they start getting loud.  Publicly, HM Magazine has reported the band as stating that they "wanted more of a produced sound."  The conflict between these contrasting styles is evident throughout the album, the delicate rocker "Point #1" being followed by the massive grunge groove of "Prove To You."  This dynamic exists throughout the album, songs such as "Dos," with it's slowly crescendoing guitars and vocals being followed by more grunge influenced songs like "Long."
 
Vocally, lead singer Pete Loeffler is incredible. Dynamic and versatile, he can go from a hushed whisper to a warbled scream in a second. The guitars are also handled by Pete, and they are as well-done as the vocals, sharing the same qualities as his voice.  Drum and bass responsibilities are well-handled by Pete's brothers, Joe and Sam.
 
The lyrics of Chevelle's songs read more as complex free-verse poetry than conventional song lyrics.  The simple, bitterly delivered words of "Dos" are the most heartfelt:

The tight musicianship of the band is surprisingly good, as evidenced by the band having impressed CMJ enough to land a spot on their monthly disc.  And while this album is not quite as good as it probably could have been, the Christian market has desperately needed something like this for awhile.  A new, talented band with a fresh musical combination is always welcome, nagging flaws aside.  Listeners should plan on listening to this album thought headphones in order to fully appreciate some of the album's quieter moments.

Joe Rockstroh  (7/25/99)
 
 

The back-to-front CD case signals immediately that here is another release from the record label that brought us Sixpence None the Richer and Burlap to Cashmere's latest releases. But there is none of the acoustic intricacy of either of those bands here. Instead, Chevelle take their cue from the harder end of alternative rock, calling on influences from bands like Bush and Tool and making them their own.

The chugging single-chord introductory track may put some off with its repetitiveness, but it acts as a build-up to the most accessible track on the disc, which is also the title number. With Jeremy Enigk-style half-whispered vocals kicking things off, there is even the hint of a hook in the chorus as the guitars begin to churn. Steve Albini is nothing if not an experienced producer and he has helped the band to a much fuller sound than is often to be found on Christian-market releases. All the musical elements are distinct without being separate, and the band sound rock-solid.

It would seem very uncharacteristic if Steve Taylor were to sign a band whose lyrics were not up to par, and this album doesn't do anything to change our view of Mr. Taylor. The lines are generally short and sharp, but Pete Loeffler (lyrics, vocals, guitar) keeps the emotion and the imagery to the fore. Try this from the fourth track, "Mia":

After use of guitar delay for the introduction, the majority of "Mia" is another frenetic workout for the band, with a compelling riff from Pete Loeffler, while his brother Joe's fingers show they know their way all around the neck of his bass. The band is made up entirely of one family, with a third brother, Sam, taking care of drum duties.

MTV began playing the video for the first single from this album immediately, and the exposure is well-deserved given the tightness of the band and the high quality of Albini's production. Chevelle are not treading any new paths, but they are up there with the best of those they come after.

James Stewart (7/28/99)