November 14, 2001

Chao "hitsthemiss"

Over the past few years, I've noticed an interesting little trend of Dallas-area bands have started making perfect little jewels of albums, to very little or no fanfare outside of the Metroplex area. While this must be an utter frustration for these bands, this trend also shows that many of these groups aren't as concerned with popularity as they are with making good, relevant music. Thankfully, these bands choose to be lesser known, rather than a touring act who plays Krispy Kremes across the country. Sure, we'd all like to be famous, but we all can't be Flickerstick.

hitsthemiss is the debut album from Chao, the newest project from Regina Chellew, formerly of the underrated art-rockers Captain Audio. The project is titled "Chao," most of the songs were performed entirely by Chellew, though she does have a little help here and there, most notably on "Gotta Go" (with percussion by Earl Harvin, as well as additional percussion by ) and on "Lay Lady Lay," a duet with Pleasant Grove's Marcus Striplin. Because Chao is a one-woman show, the songs burn with a much sharper sense of direction. Without the constraints of a band, she can fluctuate between styles, without having to worry about breaking the flow of someone else's ideas, and it works. From one moment of peppy, upbeat Breeders-style pop ("Gotta Go"), to Spaghetti-western balladry ("Whisper"), arty folk-rock ("Low"), with a stop-off at a hazy, pot-tinged cover of "Lay Lady Lay," complete with a drum machine beat, Chellew is doing what she wants to do--and it all comes together rather nicely.

Perhaps the best part of hitsthemiss, however, is Chellew's voice. While she's done marvelous work with instrumentation and programming, it's her voice that stands out the most. As she fluctuates her musical styles, you can hear distinct differences in her singing--from quirky art-punk not unlike Kristin Hersh and Kathy McCarty, to a dark, sad folk of Shannon Wright and a distinct poppy punk growl of Kim Deal. She takes the album from high to low with one simple change in tone, and it really works well. Normally, when a singer fluctuates between different recognizable sounds, one could dismiss them of not having found their voice yet, but such is not a valid complaint for Chellew. Instead of not having "found" her voice, hitsthemiss demonstrates that she has a very wide range, and she's not going to simply stick to "one" voice. Her influences, while noticeable, don't overwhelm her songs. Heck, for a bit of fun, see if you can spot the melody line at the end of one of these songs that's taken from famous early-90s Dallas-area band Tripping Daisy's hit "One Through Four."

In recent interviews, she's stated that hitsthemiss is, in large part, a collection of older songs that she's had for a while, that weren't recorded by Captain Audio. ("Bugs," however, is the exception; it was recorded by Captain Audio in their formative years) If such is the case, then hitsthemiss provides a nice hint at what's to come. A solo, lo-fi record that sounds like a full band in a big studio? Yeah, and if she can fool you that way, then you know she's good. Regina Chellew is quietly one of the most talented musicians to come out of the Dallas area, and hitsthemiss is an addictive blend of bitter heartbreak and sugar-sweet pop, with just a hint of arsenic to make things interesting. I haven't wanted to take hitsthemiss off my stereo over the past week, and I bet you won't want to, either.

--Joseph Kyle

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