Note: This EP was released on October 22, 2020: the review for this special project was delayed due to ridiculous amounts of work, many stressful time-crunches, and plenty of re-listens. I hope I can reflect the quality of the music Chaz has put on display.
By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
Nashville alt-rocker Chaz Cardigan is seeing things from a new perspective.
Prior to the release of Cardigan’s newest EP, Holograma, we were lucky enough to join a press conference hosted by the wonderful people at °1824, wherein the members peeled back the layers of the soft-spoken singer. In a year dominated by social isolation and political upheaval, the Kentucky-born artist has seemingly lost a lot and learned just as much. Whether it be the depressing lack of tours or the turbulent personal development he has undergone, Cardigan has seen 2020’s highs and lows from many perspectives…
And Holograma captures that turbulence in a tightly packed bottle. At a crisp 25 minutes, the EP is easily Cardigan’s most self-defining work yet, combining emotive writing with a refined alt-pop aesthetic that paints the past year as one full of boundless danger and opportunity. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that this record can hit the soul in its most stressed or introspective moments.
As a reviewer often obsessed with deadlines, I feel compelled to admit that my experience with this EP has been through many, many arduous nights. Combining generally unsettling political times with some serious self-reflection, as well as quite possibly the most time-consuming workload I’ve experienced yet, and you can say that this record’s themes spoke to me and for the experiences of many others. Holograma has been a comfort blanket, a perfect encapsulation of the emotional growth we all feel as we clamber over the ruins of 2020’s destructive path. “Everything’s Wrong,” the EP’s shimmering pop-rock opener, captures this sentiment in a brilliant way. Utilizing glistening pop-production and a catchy hook, the song appears to be perfectly happy and utopian on the surface…until you look beneath the surface of song structure. Chaz’s songwriting, much like it is on the rest of the album, is pointed and decidedly dark: everything is indeed wrong in the time he lives in. Online relationships, economic collapse, and a general feeling of loneliness are all discussed in a flash of brilliance, setting the stage for one of Chaz’s most personal and potent projects yet.
Following the stellar opener, “Losing Touch” keeps up the sunny, indified pop rock aesthetic, but this track dives even deeper into Chaz’s fascinating psyche. Even when getting to know him over a crowded Zoom call, one could see that his mind is locked and loaded with creative ammunition. This track, beyond being an absolute bop in terms of its catchiness and slick sound, is an ode to losing touch with those you love; the pain in Chaz’s voice is clear as he sings about becoming farther and farther from those he loves. “When’s the last time I mattered?” he questions, a soft but powerful moment that still rings in my head…especially as I think of relationships crumbling and people growing apart as they refrain from seeing each other in person. Chaz is more than just a heartbroken storyteller, however, showing his colors as a damn good performer. “Kamikaze” is a sublime example of how Chaz’s stage presence is underrated as hell: he manages to exude simultaneous cautiousness and cockiness over a funky beat, making this otherwise standard indie-pop romp a fascinating look into Chaz’s performative skills. Once this pandemic ends, a Chaz Cardigan concert will be on the top of my list.
One of the greatest challenges for a songwriter is to balance energy with introspection: thankfully, Chaz keeps his higher energy moments in equilibrium with introspection on this project. “Room” is easily one of Chaz’s best tracks yet, an electronic ode to the relationships that could never last. The first love one experiences can leave a massive mark on the heart, and Chaz paints this mark as simultaneously beautiful and traumatic, reminiscing over his first true relationship and the times long past. Well-written, catchy, and reflective of the ways our minds wander as we isolate during the pandemic, this is one of my favorite tracks of the year…which is a shame because “Middle of the Road” appears right after it. While I think the core tune of the track is solid, the writing on the chorus is rife with the millennial pop-isms that age poorly in the grand scheme of things: as soon as the “oh-woah” comes in, I stop bobbing my head and begin scratching it in confusion instead. The writing is still great, but this is a case where the core tune is tarnished by an unfortunate choice in execution.
Thankfully, the EP ends just as it begins: introspective and enjoyable. “Jesus Christ I’m Lonely” is one of the more interesting indie ballads I’ve heard in a long time. The piano work is downright gorgeous, but the true showstopper are Chaz’s passionate vocals and analysis of religion. He simultaneously doubts the very aspect of a higher power due to the inherent chaos of the world, no doubt in inspired by 2020’s general character and his identity as a queer artist. Despite this, he still wonders if that power is still out there. It’s one of Chaz’s most human songs, a throwback to an era of spotlit vocals and dark subject matter that is smoothly translated to a new medium. “Change Your Mind,” by contrast, is high energy, almost snarky in its execution. While it feels a bit steeped in the power pop sound from outlets like Neon Trees, the song still succeeds on its songwriting and punchiness; it’s definitely a song to roll the car windows down to as you drive to the beach. “Let It Rest” is an ambient, reflective closer that very much resembles the exhaustion the past year has put on artists and regular people everywhere. When all the bad energy climbs up our throat, sometimes it feels perfectly acceptable to ask the world to “let it rest.” While simple on the surface, the track carries an emotional potency you won’t find anywhere else…a sigh of relief after the turbulent development we have just experienced.
Which is the best way to describe Holograma in a nutshell. It is potent in its relatability, introspective nature and emotional base, but still packs a punch in terms of catchiness and general production aesthetics. I am so glad to have attended a press conference with the team at °1824 (shoutout to Olivia!), to have gotten a glimpse into Chaz’s mind and the way he crafts his music…music that speaks to the soul and the troubles it faces. This is a great EP, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a shoulder to lean on during the craziness that is 2020…I know it definitely helped me get past some huge hurdles.
Tracks to Save: “Everything’s Wrong,” “Losing Touch,” “Kamikaze,” “Room,” “Jesus Christ I’m Lonely,” “Let It Rest”
Tracks to Skip: “Middle of the Road”
Special thanks to Chaz Cardigan, °1824, Capitol Records, Loud Robot, and all other parties involved for allowing us to preview this excellent EP!
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