It is not often that a musician can say, “Beyonce has featured one of my songs on her album.” That is, unless you’re Hugo. Chulachak “Hugo” Chakrabongse has an interesting background. Born in England but raised in Thailand, Hugo’s musical ventures were restrained; his music with past band Siplor was banned on the radio. Relocating to New York City, Hugo found influence in blues artists Robert Johnson and Howling Wolf, as well as more mainstream artists such as MGMT, Nirvana, Dr. Dre and Jack White. Hugo’s unquestionable talent and desire to create accessible music, led to a record deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2010. The resulting product, Old Tyme Religion, is innovative and well-crafted, having a great combination of rock roots and hip hop swagger.
“Old Tyme Religion” starts off with explosive percussive sounds, leading into a chorus with heavy guitar riffs and Hugo singing, “waiting on that old time religion.” Hugo’s cover of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” retains the energy of the original, while adding some White Stripes-esque heaviness to it. The thumping bass drum, harmonica and acoustic instruments will have you nodding your head constantly.
“Bread & Butter” has a chorus that is absolutely infectious. The verses start off soft, with Hugo calmy singing over acoustic strumming, before being backed up by organs, heavy drums and cymbal hits in the chorus. “I’m sharp like a blade, and cold like a knife,” sings Hugo, the rough and tough lyrics fitting the song’s explosive sound.
“Hopelessly Stoned” is like a cross between The White Stripes and The Black Keys. Its garage rock sound is so grimy, but in a good way. The hand claps will sneak up on you, forcing you to tap your foot or clap your own hands. The psychedelic keyboard and organ in the chorus will send you on a path of surrealism as Hugo sings, “hopelessly stoned.”
“Born” shows Hugo’s admiration of The Beatles. You could totally picture Lennon and McCartney singing, “what in the world were you born to do,” over some fuzz bass and ringing tambourines. This one is definitely a highlight off of the album; its just a well-written song, and the guitar solo towards the end is an added bonus.
“Mekong River Delta” may be Hugo’s nostalgic nod to his past life. “And all that I could hoep to find, is a little piece of my own mind,” sings Hugo. The acoustic guitar and echoey string parts flow like that of a river, sometimes rising with the addition of cymbals and piano, before softening down again.
“Different Lives” seems to express Hugo’s present life growing as a musician. Melancholic but beautiful, “Different Lives” shifts from the more upbeat tracks, to a more reflective, somber sound. “Wake Alone” follows with the somberness of “Different Lives,” as Hugo sings about a lost opportunity with someone. Although the theme is cliche, Hugo’s lyrics are deep and natural; you will be able to relate as he ponders upon finding someone better or equal to whoever the song is referring to.
Hugo has a lot going for him. Both him, and his cover of “99 Problems” were featured in the box-office hit No Strings Attached; he has performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live; and he is currently on tour with Augustana and The Maine. Along with Old Tyme Religion, Hugo’s future is looking bright. Old Tyme Religion is a great start for Hugo; it shows that he can create well-written, accessible songs, while remaining himself and taking ideas from multiple influences.
“I consider myself to be making mainstream music. That’s what I want to do, play for people that like the material,” says Hugo. Heading in the direction he is on, Hugo won’t have to worry about people liking his material; it is fresh, reflective and authentic, grabbing your attention and pulling you in for a listen.