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Posted October 15, 2007 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Tacos and Lo-Fi Recordings: James Chapman’s Personal Castle

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One of the many things I love about DIY artists is the sense of candidness I get when listening to them. Even better, it could be the smallest tidbit of information that brings upon this sensation. You know, the type of stuff that magazines call “fun facts” to differentiate between pointless derivatives and irrelevant satisfiers. In the case of Francisco Castle, it could be the bit where he lists that he loves nachos that brings a grin to my face. No, it was not “I attended Juilliard on a full-fledged scholarship” or “I was given all the opportunities in the world thanks to my daddy’s endless pockets” like all these other artists attempting to “stand out”. Francisco Castle instead lists on his press release something that many of us can relate to: a love for something all too familiar. This sense of familiarity makes for a memorable image on the part of Castle, a man whose real name is not Francisco Castle after all. Merely a budding musician based out of the West Side of Chicago, Jason “Chaps” Chapman has gone under the musical alias of Francisco Castle for several years. Though he is mum on the alias of such a name, I believe the inherent elusiveness of such a name is indicative of its musical character – rich and fulfilling in subtle simplicity.

The story of Jason Chapman’s quest into the transformation of musical moniker Francisco Castle is hardly conventional. While many savvy solo artists have been strumming a guitar or gliding on some keys since their preteens, Chapman did not start to play guitar and bass until he was 23. I suppose this is the result of an individual who was never forced into musical creation. He played by his own standards, on his own time, and by his own intellect; it makes the impressive result even more personally satisfying. Capitalizing on the Do-It-Yourself tag, his career in the production aspect has been slow but progressive. After first toying around with a 4-track, he bought an 8-track. After tiring of such methods, he resorted to a machine that everyone reading this site is undoubtedly familiar with: a computer. He continues to utilize all his musical needs on this futuristic machine as well, making the best use of his resources on his two existing releases. Even if you are the type who yearns for booming production and expensive showmanship, Chapman’s style of production is all part of his guileless charm.

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Upon the first listen of Chapman’s “first effort and self-released” State and Main, many will likely be left mumbling something similar to this: “What? This sounds like something I could do after playing guitar for a year or so.” Sure, I guess on the production end there are only small dabbles of diversity. But with a $50 music program, a 6-year-old computer, and a cheap tube microphone, Chapman makes extraordinary use of limited resources. In fact, State and Main lives to be a testament that, regardless of financial limitations, one can produce something worthwhile with the proper artistic intentions in mind. The 14 tracks on State and Main are not flashy by any means. Hell, 12 of them are not even over three minutes long. Regardless, that does not stop each one from having its own indistinguishable character. With a few guitars, bass, and a slew of classic influences that include New Order, Beach Boys, David Bowie, and The Smiths (along with a few contemporary nods to Grizzly Bear, Blonde Redhead, and Midlake), Chapman’s so-called “garage folk” genre comes to life in a debut that, while occasionally amateurish, is worth a listen for most admirers of blossoming indie-folk.

Scattered throughout State and Main, it is easy to find small bursts of potential on Chapman’s part. The jovial “Never Saw’r It Come’n” uses some spare hand claps in one of the album’s only uses of actual percussion (if you could even call it that) and establishes itself as perhaps the album’s finest moment. Using several high-pitched variations of his own vocals as backing elements, Chapman relays a tale depicting an unfortunate accident in a satirically selfish viewpoint, preferring the fight against hangovers over a sorrowful period of mourning for an old friend. In fact, the small-town mentality reflects the music’s form in all aspects; it is an experience that lacks in stylistic diversity but proves to demonstrate strengths in melodic comprehension and lyrical wit, even if the result often yearns for a larger experience. Even with the few bursts of strings on the repetitive “Morning After” and chugging nature of “Methology” showing shades of countless folk heroes, the songs often sound more like concept and demos than finished products. While it is not a consistent album in terms of quality by any means, the strengths displayed on tracks like “Never Saw’r It Come’n” certainly makes Chapman and his Francisco Castle moniker names to look out for.

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Francisco Castle – Never Saw’r It Come’n

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/info/fcastle-nev.mp3]

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Francisco Castle – Morning After

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/info/fcastle-mor.mp3]

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Francisco Castle – Methology

[audio:https://obscuresound.com/info/fcastle-met.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].