Hugo Manuel is better known by his musical alias Chad Valley. A product of Oxford’s prolific creative community, Chad Valley has amassed a catalogue that spans four studio releases, numerous collaborations and dozens of remixes. His 2010 debut — a self-titled exploration in swirling synths and sunburnt melodies — laid the groundwork for 2011’s Equatorial Ultravox, which gave his downtempo productions a decidedly more pop-leaning twist. It was with Equatorial Ultravox that Chad Valley’s profile sprung forward, strengthened by a string of key touring slots supporting the likes of Erasure, CHVRCHES, Twin Shadow, Active Child and Passion Pit.
In 2013, Chad Valley released his first proper album, Young Hunger, which saw him fully embrace his pop ambitions. A modern collage of ‘80s freestyle jams and ‘90s radio singles, the album also featured an impressive list of collaborators including El Perro Del Mar, Glasser, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Twin Shadow. Two years later, Chad Valley delivered his sophomore album, Entirely New Blue. The record was an examination of identity and what it means to return to places that comfort us, especially when we return to them a different person. Unlike previous material, and embodying the spirit of the music, Manuel’s voice appeared higher in the mix, rinsed clean of effects on most tracks. Similarly, the productions became starker, providing him the space to do more with less. Working with producer Joel Ford, the ethos of stripping away everything that’s not essential is apparent throughout the record.
On the back of Entirely New Blue, Manuel continued touring extensively and it was during this time that the wheels of a new Chad Valley album were put into motion — amid an unfortunate setback. While in Texas with Blackbird Blackbird and Shallou, their van was broken into, and everyone’s equipment and personal possessions — including Manuel’s laptop, which contained the bulk of a new album — were stolen. Thanks to the generosity of fans, the tour continued with borrowed gear, but the music was unrecoverable.
From this loss, the central motif of an album emerged — the material Manuel had been working on had vanished and was, in a sense, imaginary. In the summer of 2016, he went home to Oxford to start afresh with the record, where “imaginary music” became a mantra of escapism. But rather than writing biographically, he began writing what he thought of as the lost songs of an imagined pop star.
Citing influences in China Crisis and Prefab Sprout, as well as less esoteric and more bombastic artists like Toto and Heart, Imaginary Music finds Manuel seeking to unlock the art and secret of timeless pop — something he sees realized most fully in the hyper-romantic music of the ‘80s. Unlike the guest-laden Young Hunger and co-produced Entirely New Blue, the making of this album was an almost completely solitary exercise (save for the ethereal vocals of Katherine Robertson on “Impartial”), allowing Manuel to fully embody the pop star in his mind’s eye. Imaginary Music includes the previously released singles “Up Again” and “LA in August,” both of which bolster one of the strongest batches of material Chad Valley has yet delivered.
Imaginary Music is out May 25, 2018 on Cascine (Worldwide), Paper Bag (Canada) and Rallye (Japan), and will be followed by an extensive tour bringing Chad Valley across the U.S. and Canada.