The Chapin Sisters’ second album, appropriately entitled Two, is a good example of why first impressions shouldn’t always be trusted. I’ll admit I’d never even heard of this folk-pop duo prior to giving Two a spin. While I was struck by the carefully harmonized vocals of Lily and Abigail Chapin, though, I also got a little bummed out by the gloominess of the music.
Turns out I just wasn’t in the mood at the time. In revisiting Two (numerous times, in fact) I found that the sisters’ music grew on me. Mostly down-tempo, these ten songs cast a definite mood of quiet melancholy. But the chilly, overcast atmosphere gives way at crucial moments to warmth and sunshine. The strength of the album lay in its subtleties, which emerge over repeated listening.
The arrangements are skeletal, allowing for rhythmic variations and unpredictable turns of melody to stand out. Early on, “I Can Feel” sways in a depressed 4/4 until giving way to shuffling waltz-time at the end of each chorus. “Digging A Hole” is mostly a hypnotic percussion pattern with partially chanted lyrics, but interest is sustained as the solo vocal becomes a harmonized duet. It isn’t hard to imagine Nico tackling the droning “Birds In My Garden,” one of the album’s gloomiest songs. But even there, a delicately harmonized series of “la, la, la”s briefly rises above the angst.
Lyrically there is seemingly a minimalist ethos at work. Of course, simple lyrics don’t necessarily mean bad lyrics. The words are well-matched to the music; often equally sparse. The motif throughout Two is inclement weather, specifically the resulting downbeat mood it can cast. “I Can Feel” involves a thunderstorm. “Boo Hoo” talks of the “grey and cloudy sky.” If the title weren’t evocative enough, “Roses In Winter” finds the protagonist being offered shelter from the rain. The album closing “Trouble” includes the refrain, “I’m just a drop of water in the driving rain.”
This isn’t a collection of catchy, radio-ready singles. The relatively short album, clocking in at just over thirty-four minutes, is best approached as a sustained cycle of songs. But a couple of highlights stand out. “Left All Alone” is a sparkling creation, with a twisty melody and elaborate vocal arrangement. It’s a pop gem and the best song overall on Two. “Palm Tree” could be easily adapted as a soulful torch song, its lyrical imagery of a “dusty old palm tree” and an “empty beach” provides a nice contrast to the dank chill pervasive throughout the album.
Lily and Abigail Chapin have deep musical roots in their family. Their father is multiple Grammy award winner Tom Chapin. Jim Chapin, a highly influential jazz drummer, was Tom’s father. Their uncle was the late, great singer-songwriter Harry Chapin. Though these are tough acts to follow, the Chapin Sisters have the chops to justify trying. Two is an album of subtle but rich pleasures, recommended to those with a taste for intricate vocal harmonies.