If there’s one thing you need to know about Hugo Manuel, it’s that he works hard—really hard. He’s one of the movers and shakers behind Blessing Force, an Oxford, UK-based collective of artists. He’s the frontman of sunny indie-rock band Jonquil, and now he’s releasing an LP as his electro-pop identity, Chad Valley. Young Hunger is a collection of songs that captures longing, loaded with smooth synths and a strong sense of direction.
The collaborative spirit from Manuel’s work with Jonquil and Blessing Force carries over to his solo project—he’s brought plenty of friends on board to join him. Twin Shadow is first up, with a guest verse on album opener “I Owe You This.” Glasser’s pure, clear vocals on “Fall 4 U” coexist effortlessly with Manuel’s warm voice, making it a no-brainer as a lead single. It’s interesting to see him work this way now, given that his previous EPs as Chad Valley—Equatorial Ultravox and a self-titled release—didn’t have any featurings. While songs like “Tell All Your Friends” show that Manuel is still perfectly capable of holding his own, Young Hunger offers the opportunity to hear acts like Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Active Child in different contexts. “Evening Surrender,” assisted by Swedish singer El Perro Del Mar, is an album highlight with the simple-yet-effective refrain “You know I want to do this together, you know I want to go far.”
There are hints of nostalgia throughout the Chad Valley identity, whether it’s the love for ’80s synths or the history of television shown in the “Fall 4 U” video. The world these songs take place in could be now, or it could be the age of brick-like cell phones. This translated into something tinny, though not cheap-sounding, on Equatorial Ultravox, but on Young Hunger, everything is richer and fuller. This is especially true of Manuel’s voice, which might be his greatest asset as an artist. His heavy use of synthesizers might pin him to an era, but his tenor is timeless.