The Brighton-based singer songwriter O Chapman isn’t dead. At least, I don’t think he is, judging by his Twitter feed. He does seem to have departed from cassette micro-label Memorials of Distinction – also based in that southern coastal boho mecca – for new musical pastures, which is probably the reason for all of the funereal wailing and gnashing of teeth from those quarters.
It’s also prompted Memorials of Distinction to gather together this humongous rag bag of demos, early sketches and rarities into this free to download bumper collection.
Collections like this can be frustrating. Often lack of curatorial rigour can instil a weary ennui in the listener as another tinny, half-assed half-idea sputters briefly into life.
There’s not much danger of this here, fortunately. While it’s true that, as the label says on its Bandcamp page, this is warts and all collection, it’s comforting to know that this time, these musical warts are pretty pleasurable to listen to.
Chapman has a groovy, hazy voice, wheezing out his lyrics like Kurt Vile adrift in a queasy seaside town, gabardine done up tight against the cold and cupping a roll-up in his hand as the icy wind brings tears to his eyes. His guitar picking is pretty good too, self-taught and just enough to provide a cute musical tapestry to leaven the world-weariness of the vocals.
What’s good here? Plenty, for sure. The plaintive Nick Drake stylings of Drifter are a bucolic delight early in the running order, the simple guitar plucking bringing a charming autumnal glow to proceedings.
Faith Barker pops to add some lovely backing vocals to a few songs. Wake Up is my favourite of these, the close harmonies of vocal marking out a simple and beguiling melody. “Wake me in the evening/When the day is old,” they croon, “Let me stay on sleeping/Leave me on my own”.
That I’m a sucker for songs about staying in bed – The Beatles’ I’m Only Sleeping is the exemplar here – is at least part of the reason I dig this tune so much.
For a change in mood, try the narcotic glistens of Eyes Wide Shut, Chapman’s drawl at its most slurred and the guitar like some flow of thousands of multi-coloured particles. Lazy Day is equally stunted, with impossible to make out lyrics given a cheeky pinch by Chapman’s nicely-done Takoma stylings.
These last couple of tunes, and a couple more from this collection, as well as Chapman’s recent Relapser single, were re-recorded and generally buffed up with drums, keys and more guitars, on his Discomfort EP, released back in July. Lazy Day’s rolling groove and twanged lead guitar are welcome additions, upping the glassy indolence of its demo version.
Smother Me is probably the most successful of these reworkings, however, with chunky plod that’s a world away from the clapped out version available here.
Despite all the rock sheen, there’s something quite enchanting about Chapman alone with this guitar, which is what gives this compilation some edge. Stranger’s Place (This Must Be Home) keeps things interesting as we hit the home strait, with some nice raga-folk stylings, while No Way Back Home seems like the most sophisticated thing on here.
The track is a marvellous combination of supple guitar lines that creep and curl and a particularly breathy and chilled out vocal delivery. “It’s hard to find another state of mind/I don’t know why I keep on trying,” murmurs Chapman, sounding pretty chipper despite the abandoned melancholy y of his lyrics. There may be no way home, but, as the man says, it’s alright, somehow.