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Chisel



Along with fellow DC natives the Make Up, Chisel helped bring the infectious sounds and far-out fashions of mod culture back to the rock underground. Taking cues from The Jam's legendary frontman Paul Weller, Chisel's charismatic scratchy-voiced leader Ted Leo shaped his band's engaging brand of rough-edged, loose-limbed, hook-heavy mod-punk, in the process helping set off the nascent garage-rock revival of the late '90s. Like Make-Up leader Ian Svenonious, Leo's roots lay in DC's emo/hardcore scene, a background which lent itself well to his forays into mod/garage-rock with Chisel, as he was able to avoid the fruity pretensions which so often afflict purveyors of '60s rock nostalgia, instead creating something dynamic, vibrant, and contemporary.

Leo formed Chisel in college back in 1990 with bassist Chris Norborg and drummer John Dugan. After several years spent consolidating their fan base through constant touring and numerous seven-inch singles, Chisel finally issued its first LP in 1996, the explosive 8 A.M. All Day, a 36-minute effort with more hop than a Mexican jumping bean which saw the power trio augment their already distinctive stripped-down mod-rock sound with horns and organs for a touch of '60s soul, terrific vocal harmonies, and some moody instrumentalism. With the following year's classic Set You Free, the trio continued to develop the increasingly complex songwriting of their debut album, offering a darker and moodier collection. These were unquestionably two of the finer rock records of the 1990s, the sort of albums it seems likely kids of future decades will discover to their delight and astonishment, the same way kids throughout the years have been discovering The Who, The Clash, and The Jam. Unfortunately, two records was all we got, since Chisel broke up soon after the release of Set You Free.

After Chisel, Leo fronted an extremely short-lived outfit called The Sin Eaters. When that fell the wayside, he began making solo recordings, which eventually evolved into his excellent new band, The Pharmacists.