At the heart of The Chief Smiles is Sarah and Alex Trimpe, a brother and sister who have been making music together for quite some time. This band is their second incarnation after releasing two EPs and a full length album under the name Badger. They used a guitar and violin sampler motif with Badger, and have streamlined that same model into this incarnation.
The sound is something unique to alternative music, though it has bits and pieces of what you might call influencing genres scattered throughout. The violin solo on “Little Hanz II” has a salsa/Latin/tango sound. “Fit to Be Tied” has a country-rock feel. “Plagued by Bad Sound” is unmistakably Beatle influenced. As a whole the sounds are unique and varied yet, somehow, you get a familiar feel throughout, even if they are different familiar themes.
Just as distinctive as the random and varied sounds from track to track is the presence of the violin on each and every one. Call it the sound which ties the songs together or the distinguishing trait of The Chief Smiles — either way it’s an undeniable presence. One that is emotive and expressive. Whether it is the moaning pleading cry in “Even Albatross Wept” or the dark and tense lines in “Survivor’s Mood Ring” it comes through just as animated as if the violin was a third voice.
I say a third voice, because lead vocal duties are shared on Help Us Help You between the brother and sister team. Also contributing to the sound is Michael Hummer on percussion and Vikas on guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion. Aside from vocals, Alex lends his guitar and bass talents and Sarah plays violin as well as lead vocals. The Trimpe’s share writing credits on all the tracks.
The album opens with “Fit To Be Tied.” A loud and proud sort of sound, it has an edgy county-rock feel to it. Musically, think Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” — only more refined with smoother changes. The lyrics amount to a hook-filled chorus that is not really the center focus. On this one it’s the instrumentation that takes center stage and it is for me the stand out track on Help Us Help You.
But diversity is the key to this album, and just because the vocals don’t take center stage on one song, doesn’t mean they won’t on another. You only have to wait until the very next, “Cold Water Flat,” to hear Sarah’s beautiful yet ghostly voice take center stage. The quality is such to leave a prickle chill across your skin as she conveys not only the words but the emotions behind them. Later in the CD it’s “Even Albatross Wept” that delivers a poignantly eerie sentiment. But it uses a completely different tone to do so.
If you are tired of the typical and formulaic music, or looking for something that is a step out of the box, combining sounds and pushing limits, then you should pick up a copy of this CD.
Help Us Help You is the first collection from this quartet, The Chief Smiles, and is available through CD Baby, iTunes, and Emusic. Information on The Chief Smiles can be found on their Myspace profile.