Review by: Jonathan Hopkins
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Before I get to the review, let me tell you that finding any information on this album or this band is borderline impossible. Aquarium has exactly one album entry on RYM, and isn’t this one. Sister Chaos wasn’t on Spotify in my country, nor was it anywhere easily available online. I was very lucky that exactly one person had it up on Soulseek, and that the mp3s were good quality.
Broadly speaking, Sister Chaos could probably be described as art-pop, but it’s fairly difficult to nail down. I have no knowledge of Aquarium outside of this, but here, at least, their greatest asset is their unpredictability. None of the songs really sound like each other, and the surprising moments scattered throughout the songs tend to be the best parts of the album, such as the suggestive slide riff that pops up occasionally in the funky “500” (I used to play bass for the Funky 500) or the lovely piano break that appears out of nowhere in “Fording.”
Aquarium have quite a lot of influences on display, and strangely, its diversity might be a weakness. Most of these songs are good, but none of them have much of an identity of their own. They have a few defining quirks, but in many ways, “Brother Nicotine” is a Beck song, “Fate’s Foot” is something off Harmonium’s first album, “500” largely feels like The Stone Roses (albeit with very different instrumentation), etc. That’s not to say that it’s bad. The pastiches are good. I just have a difficult time grasping exactly who Aquarium are as a band, other than that they like their trip-hop rhythms and psychedelic tinges here and there.
The album seems very even to me, but if I had to pick a couple of highlights, I’d go with the slightly jazzy, slide driven “Psalm 151,” “Fording,” which combines its groovy verses with a, unexpected catchy upbeat pop chorus, and the bright piano pop of “Cardiogram.” The only thing that doesn’t really hold up for me is “Rastamen from Hicksville,” which is an amazing title wasted on a rather bland stab at reggae. While I basically enjoy Sister Chaos, nothing stands out to me much, and nothing ever strikes me as great or brilliant. It’s a pretty good album, certainly invested with a lot of craft and talent, and worth a few listens, but I’ll probably never feel like pulling it out again.