Chad Valley - Young Hunger

A beguiling mix of fresh exciting sounds and a kind of 1980s smooth blue-eyed soul, it is the old meeting the new.

Label: Loose Lips / Cascine

Rating: 7

You may not be aware, but 26-year-old Oxford-based producer Hugo Manuel is one of the hardest working men in pop. As well as recording and performing with his band Jonquil, Manuel is an integral part of Oxford art collective Blessing Force and has spent the majority of the last year touring the world with the likes of SBTRKT, Friendly Fires and Twin Shadow. In amongst all of that Manuel has been working on his solo project as Chad Valley for the past two years and has managed to find the time to complete his first album, the appropriately titled ‘Young Hunger’.

Hugo Manuel is part of the vanguard of exciting new British producers that have sprung up in the last few years. The music he makes as Chad Valley is distinctly electronic in nature but with a pronounced streak of nostalgia thrown in. ‘Young Hunger’ is a beguiling mix of fresh exciting sounds and a kind of 1980s smooth blue-eyed soul, it is the old meeting the new, sometimes awkwardly and, frequently, thrillingly.

The album is illuminated by an impressive number of guest vocalists, a sign of Manuel’s burgeoning cachet. The first of them appears on opening track ‘I Owe You This’. George Lewis Jr aka Twin Shadow adds his powerful croon to Manuel’s emotive smouldering voice over a strange kind of rudimentary toy shop synths. It is a striking and effective contrast.

Elsewhere, guest performances come and go. The brilliant gilding disco pop of ‘Fall 4 U’ is illuminated by an exquisite vocal from Glasser’s Cameron Mesirow and the pure joy of ‘My Girl’ featuring fellow Oxford band Fixers’ Jack Goldstein is simply wonderful. It is a naively charming piece of electro pop that is by far the most memorable track here. A faint hint of cheese resides but y’know, sometimes cheese is good. There is also a great lyrical nod to The Spice Girls as Goldstein sings, “If you wanna be my girl then you gotta get with my friends’.

Some of the other guest turns are markedly not as effective. For example, El Perro Del Mar’s swooning poise is not enough to lift the ponderous ‘Evening Surrender’ from tedium. Anne Lisse Frokedal of Norwegian band Harry’s Gym also features on the curious but lightweight ballad ‘Fathering Mothering’.

By far the best moments here are when the music takes on a translucent kaleidoscopic hue and the beats and synths transport you off into the ether. The lovely title track and the bubbling dance pop of ‘My Life Is Complete’ featuring the talents of Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs do this particularly well.

There is a contrast on ‘Young Hunger’ between the lovely languid electronic and overt pop and the ever so slightly overwrought emotive balladeering evident on closing track ‘Animals’ featuring Active Child. Here the sound is extremely reminiscent of more ‘serious’ electro pop of 80s acts like Ultravox. It is a po-faced nature that lets down parts of the album.

Despite a few notable mis-steps, ‘Young Hunger’ is mainly a joy. It’s easy to see from this record just why Hugo Manuel is in such demand and his debut, as Chad Valley will provide a significant springboard to ever more exciting climbs.