CD REVIEW: Uncle Chunk – Social Studies

Uncle Chunk are the kind of band that the word ‘eclectic’ was invented for. Their music – hitherto contained on four EPs – is a bubbling concoction of modern metal and alternative rock. But not Alternative Rock as a genre, with capital letters. We’re talking about alternative rock as a manifesto. Syncopated rhythms, off-kilter melodies and unpredictable guitar lines bounce about hither and yon. Finally, after a gestational period that makes elephant pregnancies look downright speedy in comparison, Uncle Chunk has released Social Studies, their debut full length.

Opening with a reverberous, tribal percussionfest, Social Studies gets going with “Natalie,” part Meshuggah, part King For A Day era Faith No More, part spacey semi-psychedelia, it’ll give you an idea of the Chunk sound, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. “Dragon Eyes” reveals a little more, with effected clean guitars crashing against a lumbering distorted chorus and ultimately a crazed wah wah solo courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Mike Chunk. “In The Dark” adds a bit of swing to the equation alongside some cool ringing guitars and a cool stop-start verse groove. “Huggermugger” feels like a real centrepiece, with an odd time feel that would be right at home in the hands of Dream Theater or Tool, and a loud/quiet/loud dynamic that again recalls FNM at their angriest. “Carcass” begins with cleaner guitars and a slightly jazzy mood, and it’s pretty much the only way the band can go after “Huggermugger.” The tasty clean wah work eventually gives way to “Soldier On,” a much angrier, chunkier work which leads to “Mother’s Son,” more syncopated groovy heavy rock with a touch of funk. “My Mind” further explores this territory, while “In A Lifetime” closes the album with more of the clean spaciousness rather than the hyperactive energy that dominates much of the album.

Drummer Marc Chunk plays with lots of dynamics and energy, with what feels like an eerily natural knack for knowing exactly how hard to hit, when to hang back, when to drag the beat and when to sit right on top of it, while bassist Robo Chunk is a solid, creative player who hangs back maybe a little more here than he needs to – if you’ve seen him play live you’d know what a beast he can be, especially with a six-string bass in his hands. Mike Chunk’s guitar work covers a lot of ground, and he seems really at home at the unnatural syncopated rhythms that drive much of the material.

The production is a cool mix of ambience and punch, with plenty of depth and space. The harmonized vocals that punctuate much of the album are also a big part of the overall feel of the album. Uncle Chunk as a live band are pretty damn impressive. Their energy and antics make for a great show. But the recorded version of their sound offers a slightly different side, energetic and in a different way, with greater emphasis on the nuances.

Uncle Chunk is streaming 80% of Social Studies via their website, but it’s also available for paid download with bonus content, lyrics, pics and the entire 4-EP discography included. Check it out at unclechunk.net.