Track Review: Chess- Animal









Dance-Pop, Electro.-Pop


Her (latest) E.P. Tuxedo ranked alongside the best that 2013 had to offer. Abound with vivid scenes, huge vocals and soulfulness: it marked a confident leap forward for Chess. The young Siren returns with a memorable and impassioned cut- Animal is a stunning track that displays a confidence that few of her contemporaries possess.


IT is good to return to an artist that provided…

me the opportunity to begin reviewing music- Chess was the first act I assessed (all of those years back). In a sense I have watched her grow and mature: following her career closely, I have been amazed by her trajectory and confidence. Provide me a moment- to go a little off-topic- before I put Chess in the spotlight; but a subject (dear to my heart) has reared its head: the ambition of young solo artists. Having just reviewed Bailey Tzuke- an exciting and striking young Pop act- it has got my thinking about other similar artists- what sort of sounds are on offer and what direction modern music is taking. Quite a few mainstream artists are starting to see their appeal wane and evaporate; there is a huge gap in the market for the new and hungry breed to come through and take their place- the modern music listener demands something both exciting and soulful to quell the anxieties of life. Having quite an ear – with my mindset trained- for what is fresh and exciting in new music, it is always great discovering an artist you know is going to have a prosperous and solid career. Chess (Fran Galea) is an act whom seems sure to be exciting audiences and fans years from now: her ambition and solid work ethic reflects in the music. A great deal of young acts tend not to change and mature their sounds- from E.P. to E.P. for example- yet our heroine has flourished, grown and develop from her early days- and ensure that the quality on offer is on the highest order. I shall reflect more on this point soon- for now, I shall introduce her to you:

Known for her exotic looks and her rich voice full of attitude; Chess has managed career since it started 3 years ago. Since then she has solely managed to gain radio airplay in 3 countries (Australia, Malta, Uk) and online, a number 1 in the Maltese radio charts (Stilettos), Features in magazines (international), online blogs and reviews (international), and newspapers such as the Sunday Times (Malta), along with TV appearances and radio interviews and a collaboration with a Ministry of Sound DJ (Xenia Ghali). Last November Chess released debut EP Babygirl, which she wrote herself with the help of her producer, Edd Holloway (Ebony Day). Chess performed this EP at the Bedford, Balham and many other significant places in London such as The Luxe and The Old Queens Head, Islington. Other big performances include Bay Music Awards which had an audience of 4,000 and The Farsons Beer Festival which had an audience of 2,000. She has also managed to have 2 fully funded kickstarter projects thanks to those who believe in her as an artist. Donations came from all over the world. Her 2nd EP Tuxedo, managed to get her radio airplay on BBC Introducing, where the single Vanity was described as “a cracker of a tune!!!” by the presenter, and also on Best of British Unsigned. Promotion is still going on for this EP. Chess has just been nominated for Best Solo Artist in Malta at the Malta Music awards.

Having began her music career with a small (but loyal) fan base, Chess’s army of supporters has grown and swelled- taking in fans from all around the world. Being still in her 20s, it is impressive how much ground Chess has already covered: in addition to her two E.P.s, she has featured on several singles and projects; recorded scores of cover songs- performed all around the country in order to get her name recognised and appreciated. Our gorgeous heroine has enjoyed a great deal of patronage and support- off of the back of Tuxedo– and is making her next moves. Whilst many contemporary young artists tend to stick to predictably party lines- juvenile and vague love songs; hit-and-miss albums; generic sounds and flavours- Chess has enough ammunition and savvy to make her way into the mainstream- amongst the elite of this county’s finest solo artists.

Having been fortunate enough to review Chess’s previous work, I can see a clear path of development and evolution. Babygirl (and earlier songs) were rife with confidence and stunning vocal performances. The themes throughout her debut- as well as her early cuts- had plenty of heart and soul. Tracks such as T.T.T. (Things Take Time) and Breathe offered redemption and comforting thoughts- inspirational messages and supportive paens were offered in order to connect to the listener- anyone going through hard times or questioning their dreams could find inspiration and guidance in the tracks. Storm had a more passionate voice and showed just how potent Chess’s vocals could be. In terms of her lyrical voice, there was plenty of intelligence and skill in her trio of songs (on Babygirl). Influences- in terms of her favourite artists- had embers of Pop queens such as Christina Aguilera and Lady Gaga: that same sense of panache and spark came through in the more powerful moments; softer and beautiful cores made their presence felt when lines were softer and more introverted. In the year that followed Babygirl (released in November, 2012), Chess grew as an artist (and grew in confidence): her debut garnered a lot of positivity and support which inspired her to build on this (when Tuxedo arrived). Whereas its predecessor looked at the positives of life- the need to hold strong and face the storm- Tuxedo came with a bit more punch and sex appeal. Chess’s unique and stunning personality were all in tact, yet subjects looked at dangerous suitors; the vanity and shallowness of people- more passion, grit and spike was contained here. Babygirl‘s cover showed our heroine alluring yet innocent- there was a sense of vulnerability to the E.P.’s image. Tuxedo‘s black-and-white cover saw Chess elegant and suited- classy and intent, there was a raw sexuality and empowered soul that shone through. The songs reflected this mutation: more attitude and drive comes out in examples such as the title track; Vanity is the E.P.’s most soulful number- which sees a reworking of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain– and shows our heroine pointing the finger; whilst Dangerously Beautiful sees a handsome beau making his mark- Chess looks on and hopes not to get sucked under his spell. A renewed sense of ambition and maturity synonymized Tuxedo: our heroine employed more Soul, Rock and Classic-Pop elements- her heroes Michael Jackson, Prince and Freddie Mercury could be heard through the E.P. Animal continues and picks up from where Tuxedo left off: that sense of confidence and power- especially that which we heard on the title track- is instilled in her latest offering; the stunning and tight composition has common ground with Tuxedo, too- yet new subjects rear their head; the vocal performance contains more nuance and power than previous offerings.

Chess has been inspired by some of the greats from music. Soul legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Elkie Brooks and Aretha Franklin inspire her more passionate and tender tones: if you listen to T.T.T. (Things Take Time), you would imagine that one of those illustrious goddesses were being witnessed. As well as having a gorgeous and rich voice, Chess elicits the biggest shivers when she allows her voice to climb and belt. With Christina Aguilera, Tracey Chapman, Lady GaGa and Chaka Khan ranking as heroines (of Chess) you can detect a little of their essence in the music: that same ecstatic passion and raw power that they incorporate in so many of their classic numbers. It is not just female quarters that stand in our heroine’s camp: aforementioned legends Freddie Mercury, Prince and Michael Jackson are hugely important idols. Like Prince and Jackson, Chess is able to allow her huge range to cover a gauntlet of emotions and subjects: she has the same ability to go from a charming and childlike coo to rampant and hot-bloodied scream- making her music that much more flexible and stirring. Prince is renowned for his soulful sexiness and sweat-inducing passion: throughout Tuxedo you could hear that same ability and talent. Stevie Wonder also enters your thoughts- when listening to latter-day Chess- few can ignore our heroine’s affection for the U.S. great. In short, if you are a fan of the greatest and most impressive voices, you will discover much to enjoy and recommend. It may be a few more years before the Maltese Siren climbs the heady heights her heroes have there is enough potential and passion in her voice to ensure that it is a distinct possibility. The twin elements of passion and power make Chess’s music so authoritative and white-hot: if you prefer your sounds to be empowered, inspirational and uplifting, then you should definitely investigate Chess in greater detail.

Energy and urgency are summoned up from the opening notes of Animal. Pulsing and vibrating electronics- paired with a percussive slam- are an unexpected surprise: those familiar with Chess’s previous work would not be expecting it necessarily. Initial vocals are wordless and cooing: Chess begins with a smooth and sexy ‘oooh‘ (before transforming into ‘na na na na nas‘): her voice is at once sensual and seductive; the next playful and teasing- mixed alongside the exhilarating and Dance-inspired composition, you can tell that she is on a mission. Chess looks at the song’s heroine: encountering “something like an animal” that is “too hot to handle“; our subject is like prey- in the man’s sights she throws caution to the wind and will “dance the night away.” There is no escaping the dance floor potential of the song: having shades of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Leona Lewis- Chess’s voice perfectly soundtrack’s a vivid night scene. The song’s pulsating and energised composition puts you right in the scene: you can see yourself watching on as the two parties get closer- the sweat and noise drips from the walls. Augmented and impassioned backing vocals- ‘ohs‘- add rushes and a sense of danger: the dizzying beat and busy composition whip up a hell of a sense of dance and recklessness. With our heroine talking and dancing: determined not to stop, you can imagine the song not only being a popular smash on the dance floors- it has a catchy and memorable chorus that has its bones in festivals and venues around the country. By the 1:00 mark you find yourself swept up in the song; singing along to its captivating coda, events start to take a darker turn. With the mood slowing slightly- and electronics getting darker and more echoey- Chess lets us know “That’s the way it’s going down.” The clear and polished production (not too polished; just the right amount of shine) in addition to the effusive and memorable composition give a clear sense of story and purpose: events and circumstances develop and you get clear images of what Chess is singing. As the night wears on, the song’s heroine is fully in focus: Chess’s vocal becomes rifled and frantic as she surmises and describes our subject- one senses that she is the animal rather than the men (that are in her sights). The baddest kid in town she is; catching everyone’s eye: imbued with attitude and a sense of importance; dressed up a treat she does not need to prove anything- there seems to be a sense of vanity and ego to the song’s queen. The frantic nature of the vocal gives the song a huge rush: your mind tumbles as you piece together the heroine- various outfits, attitudes and moves spring to mind as she paces down the street- as the song’s verse comes back around you get a clearer picture. Having initially- in my interpretation- viewed the girl as a victim or romantic-loser-in-waiting, it is the colourful vixen that has the claws and teeth: we all know the sort of girl being described, and each of us has been in the same situation. Previous songs such as Vanity have wagged the finger at shallow and disreputable types: Animal‘s subject is not being judged, but you wonder whether Chess has sympathy or liking for the girl, or has washed her hands of her antics. Whether based around a real-life inspiration- or a generic femme fatale– Chess’s voice is up to the job at hand: it coos and slinks when the beat is temporized and building; hot-bloodied and animalistic in the ecstatic and atmospheric verses- direct and urgent during the chorus. With the prowling flesh-eater on the hunt, it is said that she can not only cast you asunder, but take you “to another dimension“- someone strangely alluring and striking enters my thoughts (oddly enough). Perhaps dispensing of any sympathy or appreciation, Chess shakes her head at the plastic queen: the woman who has the men drooling is not really worth the time- the sort of club fodder that spills drunkenly onto Friday night streets. Throwing in some sexy and tongue-licking French wording- backed by a heady and swelling electronic whirlpool- Chess elicits a laugh: perhaps an ironic gesture given what has come before. The final stages of the song build on the promise set previous: the hypnotizing electronics get bigger; the pulsating percussion sterner and harder- Chess’s voice remains determined and impassioned. With the repetition of the line “Something like an animal“- with sweet-natured and sexy tones of Britney Spears- the track comes to its (sweaty end). The drinks have been collected; the lights shut off- one suspects the song’s heroine has claimed another unwitting victim- or else not really learned her lesson.

Chess shows just how diverse and adaptable she is as an artist. Tuxedo (and Babygirl) contained plenty of passion and urgency, yet nothing sounded quite the same as Animal. The title pretty much gives a good impression of what the song contains: the realities and seedier side of the clubs and late-night dance floors (and the kind of proclivious characters that can be found here). Having a similar sense of pace and dynamic to Tuxedo, here Chess has found new inspiration and passion: with such an authoritative and catchy Electro.-Pop sound being laid down, it could point at some future tantalization- our heroine seems as convincing and memorable here as any other song she has created. It is a combination of facets that make Animal a gem: the lyrics are vivid and memorable; mingling wit and sarcasm; judgement and caution, Chess proves why she is one of the most effective and relatable songwriters around. Her songs paint pictures that we are all familiar with, yet she does it in her own unique and inimitable way- she seems to be at her strongest when she is reading the riot act to disreputable and unlikable types. The composition is incredibly full-bodied and appropriate: given the song’s setting, Chess matches it with a pulsating, energetic, raw and impassioned sound- something you can dance to but that which has a lot of depth and hidden layers. The vocal is- perhaps not that surprising- compelling and domineering: our heroine does not need histrionics or over-emoting; her natural strength and range gives colour and life to the song’s themes and scenes. With each new release, she incorporates that little something extra (in the vocal): here the inclusion of French is a charming and unexpected treat- I am on Google trying to translate; seeing just what the words had in mind! I have mentioned the likes of Spears and Aguilera; Animal could fit within either U.S. idol’s strongest album: the song will appeal to fans of both acts; those that are followers of Chess’s previous work- it will draw in new admirers and listeners into the bargain. The mark of an ambitious and hungry artist is those that play with genre and sound: tweak their style and inspirations to ensure that their palette is varied and constantly surprising. Lesser talents would simply re-write their past: Chess ensures that she offer something fresh, compelling and curious- that also has a familiar and relatable heartbeat.

It was nearly two years ago since I first encountered Chess- there is no subjectiveness in my words and everything that has come before. Being a fresh fan (when Babygirl made its mark), it has been wonderful to see the young artist flourish and grow. Few of her peers put so much effort into music-making and planning their careers: Fran Galea has worked effortless- since the early days- to ensure that everything she produces is of the highest calibre. Her first two E.P.s showed different sides to our heroine: different styles and stories were contained within each; the sound changed and updated between the two records, yet Chess’s distinct voice and songwriting talent remained- perhaps growing in stature and scope from Babygirl. When listening to Tuxedo, I was amazed at how natural and assured she sounded: you could tell that this is what she should be doing, and she seemed at ease and comfortable in her surroundings. Showing herself capable of being able to fit in a myriad of guises and moods, her work is synonymous with emotional range and memorable songwriting. Animal has more in common with her later work, yet introduces a new and fresh topic- whether inspired by recent events or something in her life, I am not sure. Strong and solid production values have always made her work seem urgent, concise and atmospheric: here there is no difference; the stunning sounds and incredible vocal performance are treated with consideration and rightful respect- as a result, you witness a track that is filled with passion, anger, pride and force- hallmarks that are rare in the modern music scene and should be held onto. It is clear that there is going to be a lot more work forthcoming from Chess: whether an E.P. is next on the agenda- or an album- I am not sure. Having gained support from Kickstarter campaigns, I know the true cost of realising your musical ambitions: the price of putting together an E.P. can be extraordinary and daunting. Not only have the campaigns allowed fans to support Chess- and connect with her progress- but ensure that the wonderful music gets made. From speaking with her, I know how hard she works and toils: the business of music is her biggest passion, and the desire to make it comes through strongly and passionately. I would suggest that an L.P. would be a prudent next move- of course the financial constraints may limit that sort of ambition. It is clear- from listening to her previous E.P.s (as well as Animal)- just how many styles and moods our heroine has: it would be great to see those expanded into a ten or eleven-track album. As I say, it may be a few years off- before Galea will be able to fund an album- but it is something to think about: a Kickstarter project would see many supporters chip in- I am sure the necessary funds would be obtained in no time. It is clear that there is no shortage of ambition or quality to be found: most new musicians drop a step or unveil a less-than-impressive track, yet Chess seemly gets stronger and more confident with every new release. Dividing her (musical) attentions between performing and writing, there is a lot of activity in camp- Animal will not be released to the public just yet, and any future plans are under wraps. If you have not heard Chess’s previous offerings- go and do so immediately- then start from the beginning and work forward: 2013/14 Chess sounds more assured and happier; that ambition and foresight never loses focus. This year is sure to see future releases- the single being one of them- and I cannot wait to hear what comes next. Animal is a tantalising, catchy and stunning slice that could lead to a mouth-watering third set: from angelic and supportive Babygirl through to tough and fist-lifting Tuxedo woman- where is she headed next? I am not sure, yet I do know you need to attune yourself to one of this country’s finest and most promising new talents. My words can not do full justice, so sit back; listen to what the young artist has on her mind- this stunning and untamed Animal is something…

EVERYONE should see.

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