It’s funny, isn’t it? On the exact day we take Chase Atlantic’s DON’T TRY THIS EP to task in the newest edition of The Catch-Up, they decide to release their newest full-length album, almost as if to distract from how bad their music actually is. Granted, that’s pretty much the tactic de rigeur of modern trap, in which artists will saturate the market to draw as much attention away from their disposability as possible, but Chase Atlantic’s continued moonlighting as an alternative act makes them stand out even more, and not in a good way. They’ve never been all that compelling as a band, and the comfort with which they churn out projects that show little to no growth or evolution is indicative of a band that have nothing really to offer, and yet are consistently wheeled out as an example in a scene that seemingly wants to sever as many ties from what’s actually alternative as possible. Factor in a general vapidity and lack of any distinct presence (or really, any presence that isn’t as performatively asinine as the majority of trap artists), and it’s exceedingly difficult to decipher what Chase Atlantic are bringing to the scene besides a new and easy punching bag.
But here’s the thing – PHASES really isn’t that much of a target as everything that Chase Atlantic have produced up to this point would’ve have pointed towards. That’s not to oversell it or say that it’s good, because it definitely isn’t – it can be just as washed-out and dreary as usual with the same liberal use of trap’s worst features that they’d really be best getting rid of – but any progression can make a difference, and it looks as if Chase Atlantic are finally beginning to clock onto what their strengths as a band are. It’s still far too unappealing as a whole to recommend, but the fact that the seeds of anything at all are there is far more than anyone would’ve realistically expected.
Even so, it’s not as if PHASES can extend its reach beyond an isolated few examples, but that still makes a difference overall, as Chase Atlantic knuckle down with the more spacious, expansive production that’s always been by far their strongest feature and run with it in a pop context that’s enormously more appealing. The influence of The Weeknd is something that really sticks out, particularly in the mirror placed in from of his slides between trap murk and a tenser, tighter brand of ‘80s inspired pop, particularly in the misty, roiling percussion and glimmering keys of HEAVEN AND BACK or the moody new wave echoing of I NEVER EXISTED. The real surprise, though, comes in ANGELS, hitting early with huge, propulsive pop verve with the dancing tempo driven by its punchy beat and saxophone embellishments for a mood that can be construed as seedy, but is just as good as capturing melancholy or introverted brooding. It’s pretty much the ideal canvas for Mitchel Cave’s thinner, more nasal vocal delivery to work, distanced behind distinct AutoTune and displaying a vulnerability that really feels earned at its strings-backed coda on I DON’T LIKE DARKNESS. It’s honestly quite shocking that this is where Chase Atlantic have decided to pivot towards; sonically it might make some sense given their proximity in influence to acts like The Weeknd, but the level of genuineness is something that this band have never displayed an ability to pick up, and it’s a shame that it’s not a consistent thread across the whole album.
Maybe that would be asking too much though. After all, DON’T TRY THIS was only released six months ago, and to see a leap made from autocrooned dregs to engaging, atmospheric pop is probably not a feasible goal in the long run. But PHASES’ glimpses of what could’ve been makes its defaulting to the same well feel all the more disappointing, especially with how clear it is now that the pieces are largely all there. Of course, that’s not always the case, especially in the writing where Chase Atlantic frequently have little to say beyond trap’s usual ankle-deep well of ideas and rarely an interesting way to say them; HER seems to think it’s a good idea to sprinkle in two separate references to the broken relationship that Cave’s love interest has with her father among the strings of brand names and half-baked romance, and whenever any deviations are made towards mental illness on EVEN THOUGH I’M DEPRESSED or stabs at hip-hop swagger and machismo on TOO LATE, the higher vocal register does no favours to content that, on its own, can’t elevate beyond mediocre at the absolute most. To be fair, it’s at least better than most of what Chase Atlantic have previously put out in that it’s more underdeveloped and lacking in momentum, but that’s hardly something to sing the praises of. A few standout moments can’t hold up the rest of the album on their own, and while they’re certainly good, the blurry electronics and unenthused trap progressions feel like more of a burden than anything else.
And that in itself is a shame, because something to wholeheartedly praise about a Chase Atlantic release is a rare occurrence indeed, and to have a lot of that squandered by a reluctance to push everything else forward feels like a drastic oversight on the band’s part. They’re actually showing flashes of something that could work for them, and it begs the question why they aren’t embracing it instead of holding back as much as they do. Make no mistake, it’s certainly an improvement, and the thought that Chase Atlantic are going to continue down this path in the future is an encouraging one, but the fact that PHASES isn’t doing that now is essentially wearing its transitional nature prominently on its sleeve. There are kernels of a benefit within that, but it’s not something that’s worth revisiting in its entirety, doubly so when even more improvements come to the fore.
For fans of: Post Malone, The Weeknd, Blackbear
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘PHASES’ by Chase Atlantic is out now on MDDN Records / BMG Rights Management.