“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.”
The impact of a given situation can be very different depending on one’s perspective. Thus acknowledges the title of Grian Chatten‘s debut solo album Chaos For The Fly released via Partisan Records. It provides us with an initial glimpse into the complexities of the human condition as seen through the eyes of the Fontaines D.C. frontman. Co-producing alongside Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey, who produced all three Fontaines D.C. albums, Chatten was inspired to create Chaos for the Fly whilst strolling along the coast 30 miles north of Dublin:
“I was walking along Stoney Beach at night and it came to me on the waves. I just stood there and looked at them and I heard the whole fucking thing. Every part of it, from the chord progressions to the string arrangements.”
Chatten has already admitted that these songs could have been shaped with his bandmates but he felt he didn’t want to compromise their authenticity. He had a clear vision for this body of work, the tracks were fully formed in his mind’s eye and so the solo album was born. For those concerned about the future of Fontaines D.C. a gentle reminder that the band will head to the US in the summer for an extensive stadium tour supporting Arctic Monkeys. In addition, Chatten also admitted that they are “always writing”. He elaborates on his debut solo album:
“I just thought: I want to do this myself. I know where the band are going next and that’s not where I want to go with this. I’ve got a couple of exaggerated aspects of my soul that I wanted to express. The rest of the band are all creative and songwriters in their own right, too. I didn’t want to go to them and be like, ‘No, every single thing has to be like this.’ I didn’t want to compromise with these songs in that way.”
The album opens with the first single ‘The Score‘ and immediately it’s clear this is not Fontaines D.C. It lives in a completely different soundscape. There is a touch of white noise before the guitar kicks in and those glorious distinct vocals of Chatten. The instrumentation with its deft guitar work and the quietly bobbing background electronica are a soundscape all of his own. The vocal demonstrates that Chatten isn’t just shouty post-punk but has a depth and quality which go way beyond. And those harmonies are glorious. Chatten expands:
“‘The Score’ is a heavyweight bated breath of lust. I wrote it in Madrid between an electric fan and a dying plant and I intend to keep it there. It was inspired by sugar and sunset.”
‘Last Time Every Time Forever’ continues the realisation that Chatten has grown in confidence with his vocal range. The musical landscape is driven by strings with its evocative atmosphere enveloping the listener. The double bass adds such depth. This is music to lose yourself in. Chatten expands on the track:
“’Last Time Every Time Forever’ is a weak-kneed 99th lap around a hellscape town of your own making. It’s haunted by seagulls and hoarse-throated slot machines from the 1980s and it breaks its own promise on every listen.”
The album also features the vocals of Chatten’s partner Georgie Jesson. Her voice adds a layer of emotion and lightness to the track and it would be interesting to know more about how the collaboration came to be.
‘Fairlies‘ lifts the pace and introduces us to the fiddle which can be heard flying in and out throughout the track. The power of the acoustic guitar which sits at the front of this track adds to its strength, at times wild and at others controlled. Chatten states:
“A lot of the album was written with just me and a guitar and I really like the idea of it being boiled down to those elements. That feeling of having the song in the palm of your hand, that control of having it with just you and a guitar. There’s an intensity as a result of that.”
The thought-provoking lyrics can stop one in their tracks:
“How can life go so slowly/And death come so fast.” ‘Fairlies’ has a slightly chaotic end, isn’t that true of life itself?
‘Bob’s Casino’ brings us to the first of the unreleased tracks. And it’s a surprising twist as it trots along at a gentle canter. There is a country twang here; is there a touch of Johnny Cash here? The depth of Chatten’s vocal here is staggering, demonstrating such a range. And the addition of a trumpet again creates a vibe unheard of so far on the album.
‘All of the People’ is a highlight, the last single to be released from Chaos For The Fly. It opens with a foreboding keyboard. The pace is slowed and the lyrics are direct and at times bristling and harsh. It’s a standout track. Direct and straightforward, ‘All of the People’ feels like these are thoughts that Chatten has to express in order to process them.
The video is directed by Sam Taylor, who previously directed the videos for Fontaines D.C’s ‘I Love You’ and ‘Roman Holiday’. Taylor shares the following:
“Taking inspiration from Lars Von Trier, George Orwell, Billy Wilder, our film analyses loneliness, self-doubt then acceptance, appreciation and human connection. We hope it makes you cry happy/sad tears x”
The track appears to be wrapped in a blanket of cynicism. However it’s a release of negative emotions, Chatten is creative after all and it’s this creativity that allows him to exorcise such destructive feelings. As he expands:
“There was an accumulation of darkness over the last year and a bit. A lot happened and there was a lot of darkness to excavate. I had a lot of hatred and bitterness and anger. There are times when I’m not feeling great, and I think a lot of people experience this, where there becomes a real loss of faith in humanity, and of myself. There’s a masochistic ecstasy to that isolation.”
“It feels really guarded. It’s like self-preservation, all of the hatred was aiming to protect myself. I decided that people were shit and it’s as simple as that. Next page. Bizarrely, it was really gratifying to write because I released myself from that. It contextualises it. You’ve rescued it from the void.”
There are individuals who obviously play a very important part in Chatten’s personal story and it’s no surprise that they should seep into his songwriting.
The honesty of acknowledging such an individual provides an example of Chatten’s recognition of their importance. The dreamy shoegaze soundscape in the chorus is glorious and soaring thus giving a gentler, softer element to the track showing the versatility contained within Chaos For The Fly.
The lyrics on ‘Salt Throwers Off A Truck’ are simply sublime. A couple of lines in particular are breathtaking in their simplicity and imagery. Is this track a homage to New York? Perhaps.
“Salt-throwers were taming the sidewalks with haste/Til the whole of the city was seasoned to taste.”
Again the instrumentation is led by strings with the fiddle and the acoustic guitar, but it is the lyrics here that strike a chord. This continues with ‘I Am So Far’, this time the harmonica leading the way. Containing a delicious harmony alongside Georgie Jesson, the shoegaze and slow pace provides yet another example of the vocal range and control of Chatten. The touch of cynicism is here again: “Seeking only answers, hearing only lies” but ultimately this is a love song, expressed only as Chatten can: “When the reapers done his looking, I would like you to be here.”
The final track ‘Season For Pain‘ begins quietly and calmly with the plucking of the guitar. Here Chatten appears to be addressing the listener directly, and all we can do is listen. Yet at 90 seconds in, the key change and shift are a surprise. A quiet personal moment, perhaps, to close an astonishing album.