Artist: Stephen Chopek
Album: Things Moving EP
Our Verdict: 7/10
Release date: Out now
Find it at: Bandcamp
Review by: Graeme Blackwell
“A skillfully crafted tapestry of punk, pop, folk and roots… that points to very bright things for Chopek’s future.”
Sometimes music takes a while to share its magic with you. Sometimes the reaction is more immediate. Stephen Chopek’s new EP, Things Moving, somehow manages to fall in to both camps at once.
In a similar fashion, the recording of the EP (along with its follow up EP On Their Own and album Things Moving On Their Own Together) came together over an extended period of five months, in stark contrast to the singer and songwriter’s debut album, See Through, recorded in a concentrated burst over just five days.
Hell, I guess art – and life – just wants what it wants.
The opening salvo in a planned triumvirate of releases in 2015 then, the Jersey City born Chopek’s first EP sets out the artist’s stall in fine style. Recorded in downtime between session gigs, tour dates and a relocation from Jersey to Memphis, Things Moving’s pleasures are many and varied.
At first listen, the songs here sound relatively simple. There is a punchy vitality that grabs the head hard and focuses it on a guitar lick here or a pulsing rhythm there. “Systematic Collapse” is a case in point, as a motorik groove intertwines with a stop-start staccato vocal line to build a hypnotic and engaging track that is the very definition of “more than the sum of its parts.” For all its apparent simplicity, it becomes clear that there is a musical depth being mined by Chopek that is soon revealed.
“Love Is A Negotiation” moves away from the punkish stylings of “…Collapse” and in to more rootsy, folk-inflected territory. The song has a warmth and weft that contrasts beautifully with some of the more angular material on offer, but listen closely and there is a dynamic complexity that rewards repeated listens.
Indeed, whilst some have expressed surprise that Things Moving was written and recorded by a musician trained as a drummer and percussionist, it seems very much to these ears that Chopek’s music has an inbuilt percussive quality, with rhythm, timbre and texture very much to the fore across the EP’s running time.
But that isn’t to say that Chopek doesn’t have an ear for melody. Some of the chord progressions across the likes of opening track “Hurry” or the sublime “Only Here” are both bracing and beautiful. Indeed, as Chopek himself says of the work: “I played all the instruments, so I had the freedom to explore ideas as soon as they presented themselves… I started to hear music from a non-drummer’s perspective, spending time listening to songs with no drums – lots of Billy Bragg and Nick Drake. I became interested in beautiful songs for what they were, not just for the parts that they were made of.”
Either way, Things Moving is very far indeed from the aforementioned systematic collapse. Rather it is a sure-footed rock n’ roll foundation that points to very bright things for Chopek’s future releases. A skillfully crafted tapestry of punk, pop, folk and roots, it’ll be a delight to see where the musician’s muse takes him next.
“Better to leave than be left with no clue, the rumor is true. Many are called, but the chosen are few,” sings Chopek on “Love Is A Negotation.” Well quite. From here it seems that Chopek has indeed been chosen. You could do very much worse than take a listen for yourself and find out why.
Find out more at Stephen Chopek’s Facebook page and watch the video for song “Systematic Collapse” below.