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Music Picks

Soft Beauty in Dark Places

Why Chet's slow, sunny crooning has won me over.

By Elaine Corden 28 Jun 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden is a regular Music Picks columnist for The Tyee.

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Victoria's Chet. Photo by Hana.

The first and last time I saw Victoria band Chet perform live was also the first time I ever fell asleep standing up. Chet's somnambulant, whisper-quiet show at Vancouver's Red Room seemed to enthral the folk sitting cross-legged in the middle of the dance floor, but for me it was lacklustre, and I fell asleep standing, like a bored housecat, rocking back and forth until a tap on the shoulder from a friend brought me back to consciousness. I was less than impressed. I like maudlin quietcore as much as the next person, but this group was just barely north of comatose.

I hadn't thought about the group since that show almost four years ago, until a month ago, a friend demanded that I listen to their new album, Fight Against Darkness, which was released March of this year. And, seeing as it has been playing on my stereo since, to the exclusion of almost everything else, I'm forced to admit I may have slept through something great.

The album opens with "The Shepherd," which starts slow and soft as a sigh, but quickly goes somewhere interesting, invoking something that sits at the perfect midpoint between Flannery O'Connor's Southern Gothic novels and the final scene of any given John Hughes film.

Singer Ryan Beattie's voice shifts between a cracking falsetto and a gorgeous tenor, crooning lyrics about beauty in dark places overtop jangly 50s guitar and strings -- violins, cellos -- that are achingly pretty. Indeed, Fight Against Darkness is aptly titled: nearly all the songs deal with a quest to locate brighter moments from inside the mire of the shadows. This sunnier outlook is helped by some musical forays into 1960 girl group territory, particularly on "By Night Into Paradise" (which also boasts brass from Vancouver group They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) and also on "Dollarton Harbour."

There are some heavy-lidded moments still evident, as on "Because My Name Is Lion," which sounds more like the Chet I saw four years ago, but the less adventurous songs are still disarmingly lovely. And quite frankly, Chet could fill the rest of their album with sleep-abetting tracks of waves and rainforests, and include just the ninth track, "Because I've Never Known Trouble," and I would still sing its praises.

Slow-burning and almost waltz-like at parts before bursting, last minute, into something that undeniably upbeat, the song breaks your heart and then stitches it back together with cello strings. I've listened to it more times than is decent, and I recommend you do too. It's far from sleep inducing, but it sounds like a dream.

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