Paul Chastain

Hey Wimpus: The Early Recordings

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Paul Chastain and Ric Menck first recorded together when they were living in the student enclave of Champaign-Urbana, IL. The casual recordings, made in 1987 for the princely sum of $500, with the pair playing all the instruments themselves, eventually came out in dribs and drabs on various singles under the band name Choo Choo Train over the next several years, and most of them were eventually collected on a not-quite-authorized LP on the U.K. Subway label, called Briar High, around the time that Chastain and Menck formed Velvet Crush. (One track here, a spirited cover of Paul Collins' "Walking out on Love," is previously unreleased.) Velvet Crush are the best known of the duo's various incarnations, but these 13 songs remain Chastain and Menck's best material. Chiming, ebullient pop songs with jangly (both politely electric and richly acoustic) guitars, tambourines, and wispy harmonies -- like Big Star crossed with the Partridge Family -- these songs are one of the cornerstones of the twee pop movement, which took many of its cues from Choo Choo Train, from the cutesy and childlike band name to Chastain and Menck's bowl haircuts. (Indeed, one of this album's highlights, "Parasol," provided the name for the Champaign-Urbana record label and distribution company.) Unfortunately, none of the duo's later projects lived up to the promise of these terrific songs, which sound as refreshing now as they did when they were recorded.

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