I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that the ability to write a catchy pop song is a hereditary trait, in addition to being a skill developed over time. That definitely seems to be the case with Los Angeles sister duo Chapin Sisters. Their lineage is chock full of singer-songwriters, including their father, Tom Chapin, and their more well-known uncle, the late Harry Chapin, who wrote and performed “Cat’s In the Cradle.” With their self-produced second full-length release, fittingly titled Two, the Chapin Sisters prove themselves to be worthy predecessors, albeit ones in need of a bit more practice.
The pair has keen ears and seem to know something about what can make pop music truly transcendent. Remember a couple of years back, when it seemed like every indie artist and her mother was covering the Gnarls Barkley hit “Crazy?” That’s because the song had a great beat with familiar yet poignant lyrics—a winning combination for any pop classic. Similarly, the Chapin Sisters were one of many groups in the mid-aughts to cover a song made famous by Britney Spears. They first garnered a bit of buzz in 2006, with their heavenly slowcore folk version of Spears’ “Toxic.”
Abigail and Lily share duties on songwriting, as well as vocals, guitars, keyboards, and percussion; separately, Lily is on banjo and Abigail plays the flute. The album also features performances from Louis Stephens of Rooney (with whom The Chapin Sisters have recently toured), and Jesse Lee and Josh Diamond of New York experimental band Gang Gang Dance. The lyrics are chock full of sweet deceptively simple language, and often skirt that very fine line between effortlessly crafted enduring pop and too-familiar schmaltz. Every song seems to start out basic, with either just voices or sparse instrumentation, then starts to build up, taller and bigger with more sound – more horns, more percussion, more harmonies. It works well, so long as you choose to block out the fact that almost every song is following that formula.
Despite Two having been recorded in the New Jersey woods, there is a very Fleetwood Mac quality to The Chapin Sisters. Let me explain: Fleetwood Mac started as a British blues/folk band then, with the addition of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, became known as the quintessential California band. As with The Mac, The Chapin Sisters combine tight harmonies, traditional British folk sounds, a vaguely haunted aesthetic and a gentle airiness. Excellent examples include “Sweet Light,” “Paradise,” and “Palm Tree.” Meanwhile, “Digging a Hole” sounds less Nicks-style “Gypsy” and more genuine world-music-style gypsy. The flute is put to good use on this track, which sounds like it should be sung around a campfire.
Overall, the songs on Two are the sort that make you want to stand in a the middle of a field or dark concert hall while wearing a long skirt that you grab at the corners as you swish and sway in place, set adrift on the ocean of sound.