Perhaps the greatest irony in being a conceptual songwriter is that eventually you’re bound to experiment so much that you wind up closer to where you started than anywhere else. It’s fitting that Stephen Chopek’s latest record in Dweller would feature such a retrospective feel for a couple of reasons, the most prominent of which being that he’s finally reached a point where he’s covered as much aesthetical ground as he can without drifting too far to the left of mainstream melodies. This is a homecoming, a reawakening of what got him started in the first place, and likely one of the more memorable alternative records you’re going to hear this summer.
The melodies in “We Still Know,” “Start Over,” and “Empty Hands” are always at the forefront of the master mix, leaving nothing to our imaginations and everything in the music fleshed out before our very ears. There’s something to be said about the kind of clarity a production quality as sterling as this one can afford the talent in the booth, and Chopek was thinking about making as crisp a record as possible when putting the finishing touches on Dweller. His delivery is too precise, and the polish on his harmonies too daring, for me to think otherwise.
Stephen Chopek revisited this material several months after getting started on it, and I think it’s obvious that some of the verses in “All Platy No Work” and “Unspoken Hopes” are the result of a refining process too many artists fail to put their work through these days. This tracklist is layered in such a fashion that keeps us wondering what’s going to be revealed from behind the mic rather than focusing solely on one consistent flashpoint from one song to another, which has tended to be the case with a lot of indie LPs I’ve been listening to this August.
Listen to Dweller below
This mix has some incredible depth, and there’s never a moment in which the instrumentation fails to cut as deep as a hot knife through butter. “We Still Know” and “All Play No Work” in particular have a brashness that is well preserved at near-live quality here, and if they’re indeed representative of what Chopek’s present concert sound is, he’s going to attract a larger following on the post-COVID circuit than many of his contemporaries will. It’s hard not to appreciate the moxie, but moreover, what he’s doing with it here.
I’m impressed with this extended play, and while it’s only a six-track piece, it has enough substance to replace some of the more filler-laden LPs currently sitting on the shelf beside my stereo. There’s soul in these performances that doesn’t typically make its way into the frame of mainstream pop content in 2021, but it’s not so pretentiously presented to the audience as to make us feel like we’re listening to someone removed from the human experience that is sharing music with the world. Stephen Chopek is the blue-collar singer/songwriter rock needs right now, and Dweller is one of the best short-form records of its kind out at the moment.