Stanhope’s sophomore album provides introspective images of relationships and memories.
Stanhope is the nom de musique of Chris Rawlins. Stanhope is his mother’s maiden name and he adopted it “to feel like I was someone else in order to feel ok being vulnerable on stage”. He stayed with the pseudonym because “home, family, and memory are such dominant themes in my writing….” He does that, emphatically, in ‘Static’, his latest album, which is laden with remembered relationships and experiences.
The songs are similar in sound and rhythm, mostly slow and quiet. They were written and recorded during lockdown, something that is reflected in the album’s claustrophobic feel. There are some great lines but there is a surreal aspect to some lyrics, which don’t always rise above the personal. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is reminiscent of Paul Simon, whose lyrics are evocative, impressionistic and, at their best, able to offer a strong narrative. Stanhope too challenges the listener, with the lyrics creating space for the imagination. Sometimes though, the references are so individualistic as to be jarring, which contrasts with the reflective feel and narratives.
The sound is also evocative of Simon and Garfunkel songs like ‘America’. ‘Static’ relies mostly on guitar with drums and bass. The simple arrangements emphasize the lyrics, but while the sound quality is good, the songs are so similar in construction they can seem repetitive.
The album’s insularity is obvious from the constant mentions of being alone. In ‘Angry at Strangers’, Stanhope sings: “I see myself in everybody I despise Everyone leave me alone right now.” There is moment in ‘Bite My Lip’ where he acknowledges: “Lost my shit alone in my room.” In ‘All In My Head’, he repeats the refrain, “I’m alone so it seems” and in I care more than I Thought, he reiterates: “It surprised me to talk about falling off alone.” Again, the sense of isolation is echoed in lines such as “Feeling like a wreck in a made up closet” and “Feeling like a spec in all my silence” in ‘I Can Do Better’.
Another theme is static, which is more than just the title of the album. It keeps recurring. It’s a refrain in the song, ‘Static’: “…falling asleep to the static on the radio”…”memories escape Like static on the radio. In ‘I Care More Than I Thought’ , Stanhope sings, “Watching the dust float off into the afterglow, Of the TV static like it used to be so hard to know”. And later: “I would kill for another if it’s static like my memory”. In 1970, Stanhope is “…wading through the static noise.”
‘Static’ is likely to be a marker in a successful career. Hopefully, the post-pandemic great re-opening will inspire a more varied effort when it comes to Stanhope’s third album.