Needle Drop: Chapell, Penultimate

NYC-based singer-songwriter Chapell produces tasteful and ambitious progressive pop rock that recalls R.E.M.’s mid-’90s output.

His newest LP, Penultimate, is a distinctly personal collection of material, charged with a sense of freedom and optimism and brimming with newly adorned sense of direction. Clearly, this is the dominating vibration now that the internet age’s hangover has dissipated. Sure, there is still plenty to be paranoid about (see the sucker punch of “I Am Zuck”) but more often we catch him ready to cut ties with the modern world and ride into the sunset, free of technological distortion.

Chapell’s crystal clear intonation makes his loaded content go down easy, often using buff melodic hooks to make deeper sentiments more accessible. The world-tinged “Sandinista” is a wonderful expose of the tragedies taking place in the tiny Central American country of Nicaragua, while the bittersweet “Catch Me” is an unnervingly catchy investigation into human character flaws. Chapell winds things down with the anthemic “If You Like It” which mixes edgy post punk guitars with powdery horn arrangements, revealing a sweetly paternal side to the songwriter.

Penultimate is well-conceived and beautifully executed collection of songs from a seasoned musician. The title refers to something that’s next to last, so we can only hope that this is not the closing chapter to Chapell’s output. According to his press materials, this certainly isn’t the case. On making music in 2019 Chapell says, “I feel like I’m discovering myself as an artist in a way I never could have earlier in my life. For too long, I bought into the notion that I couldn’t become a successful artist after age 30—and it was liberating to recognize how foolish that was. The most invigorating thing is that I don’t feel I’ve written my best song yet.”

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