Review Summary: Not a musical growth, but not a cancerous one either.
The youthful energy of CHON is something few bands in their scene possess nowadays. Even some of the youngest metalcore bands write like they’re tired and weary, popping out entire albums worth of samey, uninspired music. You’d never accuse CHON of having an identity crisis – each of their songs contain very similar elements – but ever since the band released their first aggressively melodic demos back in 2008 when the members were at the ripe old age of fourteen, it’s been obvious that the band wanted to craft their own breezy and unique sound. And when they resurfaced in 2013 with their first proper EP, “Newborn Sun”, they retained their guitar playing style and general sense of melody, but replaced a lot of the post-hardcore in their sound with jazz influences and a calmer atmosphere. It was highly acclaimed at the time, but over the two years and two records since its release, the band has stayed with largely the same sound, with the only major change being the addition of vocals on the odd track or two. This has driven some people away from the band – after all, when you have to put out a release a year to stay relevant and keep musically expanding to stay critically acclaimed, it becomes hard to find a proper balance. Fortunately for CHON, it’s hardly impacted the quality of their music at all.
Instead of rocking the boat, “Grow”, the band’s first full LP, finds them polishing the sound they’ve been building up to present in a more official format to a larger audience. “Knot”, “Ecco” (now simply “Echo”), and “Suda” – most of the proper tracks on last year’s “Woohoo!” – have been rerecorded with some slight differences and included on the tracklist. They fit right in, but some of the newer tracks do show some maturation beyond that release. Album opener “Story” might be the band’s most fully realized track in terms of structure and atmosphere; it really makes you feel like you’re about to embark on an adventure. “Can’t Wait”, the newer of the two songs with vocals, moves with more purpose than its included predecessor, and the simple lyrics and small but soothing range of bassist Drew Pelisek will charm most, as his tone is a great fit for the band’s style. And “Perfect Pillow” is taken from the band’s peppier years, providing a much needed dose of tastefully melodic blastbeats (for a second, anyway) and breakdowns.
The production is a wonderful step up from past self-produced releases, with the album being mixed by Crosses member Shaun Lopez. Hearing real, honest-to-god, non-programmed drums on the band’s work brings out so much in the group’s sound, especially when a couple of tracks feature the genius of current Animals As Leaders drummer Matt Garstka. The guitar tones are similar to the ones on “Newborn Sun”, lying in a hypnotic state between overdriven and clean, but much less muddy than before and more evenly placed in the mix. It’s a much closer approximation of the band’s stellar live performances, and given the band’s organic and purposefully imperfect approach to recording parts where slight mistakes are left in for atmosphere, sometimes it feels like the band has shrunk down and entered your ears to perform for you.
Overall, “Grow” shows off a band focused not on musical growth, but on creating an end product that truly represents the sound they’ve carved out on their recent EPs, and maximizing the exposure they’ve garnered in the short while they’ve been active again. You could say the album title represents the expansion of fame the band hopes it will bring them. It’s focused, is reasonably diverse, and runs for just the right amount of time. CHON will need to stretch out its bag of tricks in the future if they want to stay relevant, but for now, “Grow” is the best possible interpretation of the band you’ve grown to know over the past two years, and it’s an addictive listen that doesn’t wear out easily.