Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Clearlake / Amber / Rating 7.4

Frequently gorgeous but over-lubed, the album forges soundscapes so lush they're almost narcotic.

I keep putting off this Clearlake review because I keep telling myself I just need to listen to Amber one more time to grasp it fully. The problem is I don’t think 100 or 1000 listens will fix this problem. The songs are astonishly complex but it is the layer after layer of stunning and meticulous production that keeps my ears demanding a replay. I’ve given up playing this on my stereo or in the car and as of yesterday Amber has been upgraded to a headphones only release.

This is what I consider to be the audio version of mouth to mouth.

Over the past few days I have also read and re-read PFM’s Clearlake review in hopes to grasp it fully but I'm afraid that too isn’t possible. Sam Ubl has packed 4 paragraphs with wonderful words like frissons, atavistic, profligate, smogsets, folderol, and screed, but I can’t be certain beyond the number rating if PFM liked this record or not. I despise poor communication and as poetic as this PFM review reads I have no fucking clue what is actually being said. Feeling too stupid to understand a record review is as depressing as Clearlake’s inherently melancholy music.

Note to self: Do not play Scrabble with PFM writer Sam Ubl.

I think Sam liked the record, a 7.4 is decent but it falls painfully short of the PFM Cedars review which earned the band a gushing and gleeful 9.1.

There are a million ways I judge a record but I am going to let you in on a little secret. When I listen to a record I imagine how it would look if it were plugged into a life support machine measuring its heartbeat. Is there are strong heartbeat and soul to the music that would register in wild and jagged peaks or would it flat line? Does it have an irregular heartbeat that occasionally fails but eventually steadies out again? Are the blips so faint that the music is too weak to surive?

An album can also be recorded so fascinatingly and curiously well that it isn’t just the music that carries a spark of life, it is how the music was recorded that makes a record breathe. Amber has a healthy strong body of music but its bleeding human heart is kept pumping by its production.

Clearlake’s band site has several demo versions of songs from Amber available and you can hear first hand what I am talking about. Comparing demos to their finished product one can easily identify Clearlake’s recording techniques as something I won’t call their better half but a helping half none the less.

Clearlake had this to say about their record:"We wanted to make an intense record which we could lose ourselves in on stage and this is it. The music we were listening to this time was definitely more rock: Queens of the Stone Age, Neil Young, Low, My Bloody Valentine," Jason Pegg says.

The above quote explains why just about every other review mentions one or all of those bands I listening to the record on endless loop but I can’t say I clearly hear any of those influences. It sounds like the Clearlake I already loved took their recording and mastering sessions very seriously and in return an enormous sounding record celebrating the electric guitar was born.

Clearlake’s band site further explains that Amber was recorded and or mixed at 8 different studios between the UK and France including Peter Gabriel’s’ Real Word Studios.

In greater detail:
"Amber has been produced by the band’s lead singer and guitarist, Jason Pegg, along with Steve Osborne (of U2, Happy Mondays, KT Tunstall) and Jim Abbiss (Kasabian, DJ Shadow, David Gray) and recorded by Phill Brown (Talk Talk, Bob Marley, Led Zep, Hendrix, you name it)."

I don’t mean to dwell on how this record sounds verse the songs themselves but each song carries its own intoxicating balance of delicate applied with force. The guitar assault and rainy day vocals of The Doves (Check out "Widescreen") intersect with the fragile paper thin layers Bjork’s production teams have mastered over her past three records (The title track "Amber" personifies this) and the end result is Clearlake perfecting the art of darkness and light.

There are times even the best studio trickery can't save a song and “You Can’t Have Me” and “Dreamt that You Died” are perfect examples of flat liners but the good news is the record pulls through in the end beautifully.

I can’t say lyrically speaking Clearlake will ever live happily after but triumphantly, heck yes.