Mike Chick: Hello Mountain

Grand Alto was a band that graced the Shoreworld pages more than once. Featuring dark, tongue-in-cheek compositions, the band used killer chops to make their climb to the top of the Jersey heap before mysteriously calling it a day.

Rising from the ashes of that trio is singer/songwriter extraordinaire Mike Chick. Chick is a writer that doesn’t take defeat lying down. His immediate plan of action included going into the studio, where he set about the task of reaching real goals for his ongoing career.

With a non-stop schedule of performance, travel and recording, Chick has become a triathlete of sorts. He tells us on his website, “In 2010, after Grand Alto broke up, I set a goal for myself to play at least one show a week for the entire year, be it acoustic, electric or whatever. After a lot of traveling, scheduling and playing, I wound up playing 52 shows in 52 weeks.”

That activity has culminated in the release of his first solo disk titled Hello Mountain. Comprised of 10 tunes, Hello Mountain touches many different bases on its exploratory journey to artistic self-awareness. The tracks had great enhancement assistance, and were mixed, chopped and blended by Pat Noon (now mixing the new River City Extension disc) of Eight16 Recording Studios in Toms River, NJ, as well as mastering by the master, Alan Douches over at West West Side Music.

Mike Chick has chosen the sonically less traveled path of acoustic guitars, vocal and little else on his quest for compositional freedom. Hello Mountain kicks off with the eloquent ode to the stuck-up music scene queens on, “And She Knows It.” Chick tells it pretty much like it is when he says, “She dabbles in the arts, she’ll tear your ass apart, and she knows it/ She’ll get what she wants, every time.” Harmonicas pepper the track, as Mike waxes poetic about the most quizzical and entitled creature on the planet.

“You Are Always Seeing Ghosts” is the most memorable song on the disc. Recently, I was at a party where everything from Nirvana to Linkin Park was bombarding me, and the whole time I was humming this song like a lunatic. The song dives into the deep end of the psychological afterworld and dreams galore. The fuzzy, warm analog delay on the tag end of the chorus modulates in turn, swirling up in pitch and then down into the molasses-thick bottom of the song’s deep, dark well. Acoustic guitar and upright bass (courtesy of Matt Cicalese) tag along with Chick’s unique singing style as he conjures up the spirits of the world beyond in his own lackadaisical style.

The cynical impatience of “Play Us A Song We Know” takes aim at the performer who is confronted by a crowd grown impatient with his original songs and restlessly implores him to play something that they can sing along with—a typical Jersey mainstream audience reaction to anything deemed different or out of their comfort zone. Acoustics clang brightly as Chick explains the musician’s common dilemma of the lone screamer in the crowd who cannot keep his mouth shut. He blurts out the classic line, “Play us a song we know, ya’ hack/ Stop talking about Jack Kerouac.” Outstanding choruses feature the great vocal assist of Mary Huhmann.

The finger picked guitar work on “Apples vs. Oranges” sprinkles music box rhythms down into the lyrical story of emotion, acceptance and the very choices that shape our lives. Chick uses complex imagery to get his point across to the listener, including lazy time spent feeding quarters into an arcade game battle and staying in bed to forget the headache of existence. Chick reminisces about his situation with the bizarre and poetic line, “The whites of your eyes/ They look like eggs when they’re cracked and left in heat/ You left your shells on the floor again.” The warm, haunting cello solo comes courtesy of Jenn Fantaccione.

“Song For Rose,” mixes sonic, spaced-out effects with organic guitars. Zoning into the far quadrant of the galaxy, “Song For Rose,” uses atmospheric layers of imagination and color to make its instrumental point. Warbling planetary beacons bleep and chirp under Chick’s rotisserie of slow-moving guitar. Reminiscent of early Guided By Voices, the song communicates its coded message from the writer’s private plethora of spaced-out sound.

“The Things To Do” tackles the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses. Chick is indifferent in his race for houses, babies and brand new cars. Organic fads run alongside environmental urgency and the drudgery of keeping pace with every clueless fool in the universe. Art and music are dismissed by society as, “not real jobs.” Dreamers are instructed to put their backs and minds into the lemming herd. Chick gives a nod to the old fact that everybody else might be working a nine to five but he is not buying what they are selling.

“Travelin’” touches the subject of taking off and being out on the road. Mountains, desserts and truck stops take center stage in this persuasive plea to leave it all behind and hit the highway. This song pushes the button that everyone wants to hit. Freedom has its price; travel is both horrible and fun. Motels, freeways, diners and the people met along the way fuel this upbeat country jamboree. Think Stan Ridgway and Wall Of Voodoo as you play this on your next road trip.

“They Rang For You” features melodic accordion and/or harp, setting a cheery tone for this little gem. Chick’s storytelling style is always clear and topically interesting. His timing and rhyming capabilities are above par here as well. I liked the flowing line, “On more than one occasion I gained sight right through the blind/ I watched the wheels of time/ The clock was broken, but the bell still chimed.”

“Swing Set (reprise)” would be my second choice for the best on the disc. Chick mixes 8-millimeter soundscapes and reminiscent mental pictures for the listeners to interpret. The “Swing Set,” is an analogy of birth, innocence, growth and inevitable responsibility. Realizing that self-sacrifice needs to eventually make way for survival, and that eventually, we all leave the golden age of youth behind, puts “Swing Set” deep into the hearts of everyone that listens to it. The psychedelic, Apocalypse Now-vibe is bolstered with smooth, arabesque woodwind hooks. This song might never see airplay on commercial radio, but it features some of the best imagery I have heard all year.

Mike Chick has a quite a bit of soul invested in Hello Mountain. His work and dedication of the past now comes to fruition with this dark, imaginative and eloquent record.

Chick continues his marathon playing schedule and says you can catch him on Jan. 19, 2012 for the “732” series at the Ocean County Library as well as EJ’s in good ol’ Seaside Heights on Jan. 26. Go check him out at mikechick.bandcamp.com/album/hello-mountain.

From all of us here at The Aquarian Weekly, have a happy and prosperous new year!

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