If the excellent Washington, DC trio Chisel — Ted Leo (voice/guitar), John Dugan (drums) and Chris Norborg (bass/voice) — tires of being compared to the Jam (or to Mod Fun, for that matter), they have only themselves to blame. With their geometric sweaters and Vespa graphics, they are, at times, about half-a-parka away from being mod revisionists. But the music transcends that label. Though grounded in British Invasion songcraft, Chisel is indeed living in the modern world, absorbing and churning out everything from emo-core to orch-pop (they even cover a Cardinal song on a B-side).
The Nothing New EP compiles a bunch of diverse early tracks, including the great Superchunky “Sunburn.” Other tracks (oddly, not those produced by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto) are positively severe and Dischordian. The uncredited Who cover that closes the CD presages a stylistic shift.
8 A.M. All Day is big step forward. Chisel unleashes a great collection of bouncy punk-pop with improved playing and songs that are smarter, more complex and catchier than anything on Nothing New.
As mod as they want to be, Chisel paint on an even larger canvas with Set You Free. The production by Nicholas Vernhes is more powerful, and although they flirt with horns (admittedly a danger sign), the results are still more Sound Affects than The Gift. Like everything the group has touched, Chisel brings no shortage of brisk melodic pop, proving there are far worse musical heroes to have than the Jam.