Music » Record Reviews

Stephen Chopek: Daring to Listen to the Unspoken Hopes

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Stephen Chopek is a drummer's drummer who has made a name as a Memphis sideman over recent years, but that's not the half of it. As we reported in 2018, he's quietly pursued a parallel path as a solo singer/songwriter. Since that year's album, Begin the Glimmer, he's continued to hone his minimalist songcraft, often touring the country alone, with naught but his guitar, a carrot or two, and other vegan delights.

Since this summer, and now into late fall, he's been releasing material one song at a time on Bandcamp, and the past four encapsulate the full spectrum of his minimalism. Two of them, like October's "Don't Go, Stay Home," or November's "Looking for a Sign," are very sparse indeed. The former features an appropriately homey-sounding acoustic guitar and his vocals, with only a tiny drum machine as accompaniment; the latter is even sparser, a redo of a track from 2012 that features new lyrics and only the stark sound of electric guitar and voice. The bare arrangements serve to highlight his wistful melodies all the better.
But these two songs are book-ended by two others that sport more ambitious arrangements. Of course, even these are exercises in restraint. The earlier number, "With Every Love Lost," from August, features drums and broad chords that hang like clouds over the landscape. But they're enhanced by his finely tuned harmonies, to which his voice is well-suited. The resulting textures are reminiscent of, say, the Proclaimers, with an accent that’s not from Scotland, but from New Jersey. The plainspoken approach suits the simple, compelling observations of his lyrics, and continues to offer a breath of fresh air in an indie sea of vocal affectations.

And that brings us to "Unspoken Hopes," his latest release. It's gaining a bit more recognition, from both Magnet and Brooklyn Vegan, and rightly so. Combining a martial rock beat, power chord guitar and prominent, pulsating bass, it might be the most Proclaimers-esque of the batch, all while retaining his unique personality. There's even, gasp, a lead guitar line, which chimes in with a beautiful cascade of notes. And it suits the, well, hopefulness of the track beautifully. And, truth be told, it suits the current zeitgeist: Even in these dark days of December, we're daring to hope a bit more, and Chopek's chiming guitars and soaring harmonies beam over the landscape ahead in sympathy.

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