Long since dethroned from the position of sound-of-the-moment, the genre of chillwave has taken a sharp downturn in recent times. Over four years since Panda Bear’s seminal Person Pitch helped shape the genre in its infancy, chillwave’s artists have done little to develop their core aesthetic, content instead to rework and refine rather than drastically rethink their sound. And with its washed out textures and dreamy vocals, it would be easy to label Chad Valley’s sophomore EP, Equatorial Ultravox, as yet another unnecessary addition to the already bloated chillwave canon.
Indeed throughout Equatorial Ultravox, Hugo Manuel (the Oxford based musician behind Chad Valley) does not shy away from any of the usual clichés. On ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Fast Challenges’, Hugo’s vocals are buried beneath swathes of reverb and swooning synths forming a shimmering bed of sound which is certainly pleasant if slightly anonymous. What’s more, at points throughout the EP the production strays from merely bland to somewhat sickly with gratuitous amounts of autotune layered atop Hugo’s voice.
On occasion, however, Hugo makes a strong case for his relevance alongside his contemporaries; the fleeting moments where his vocals are allowed to take the spotlight are simply spellbinding. Comparisons to the vocal style of Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear) have been numerous, and not entirely misplaced, but Hugo’s voice carries so much more depth and brute force than Lennox’s choirboy delivery. The soaring vocal melodies of standout tracks ‘Acker Bilk’ and ‘Shapeless’ display Hugo’s talents in all their glory; as he moves seamlessly between a full baritone and a glorious, pure falsetto one is struck with a distinct impression of what might have been if only the vocals had not been so obscured elsewhere.
As one of Oxford’s most consistently exciting musicians of the last few years, both as Chad Valley and with the 4 piece Jonquil, it is surprising to see Hugo Manuel so in awe of his influences on Equatorial Ultravox. Whilst this record does display a considerable amount of promise, Hugo is going to have to focus on what makes his project unique if he is going to save Chad Valley from slipping politely into the background in the future.