To Realize (01.10, Lovepump United)
For: Bardo Pond, Sweep the Leg Johnny, HEALTH
Byline: Oakland noise-rockers' latest album is a perfectly fuzzed-out triumph of a record. A sprawling metropolis of 70s-inspired drug-fueled jams, rhythm-centric post-punk, and wide-eyed experimentation in both form and function. Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com. Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.
Clipd Beaks claim that To Realize is “a tribute to love, to moving forward, to rejecting doom.” This is a head-scratching claim given the claustrophobic, frequently caustic moments of violence that erupt across the album's 11 tracks. Hailing from Oakland, Clipd Beaks layer disorienting, swirling drones over tight, sinister grooves and frantic tribal drumming. Their lyrics, delivered in a scratchy caterwaul, paint broad strokes of surrealistic imagery like “screaming reptiles” and “clouds that become mushrooms”. It would seem this laundry list of nihilistic elements would render the Beak’s earlier claim null. I mean, where does “murdering the apocalypse” fit into love, moving forward, and rejecting doom? How does that line amount to more than vapid, posturing, word-vomit of two very dire things? To answer these questions we can fall back onto the old form vs. functionality argument. The form (i.e. heavily rhythmic post-punk married with churning, dark, psychedelic drones) seemingly defies the function (i.e. the cathartic release that comes from pushing your deepest fears, regrets, disgusts through your speakers into the air through performance). But it is through these seemingly incongruous elements that any catharsis is achieved. How can we move past a world full of depleting resources and a sense of doom gnawing on our once glowing optimism without confronting them head on? Even though To Realize dwells on the negative aspects of life it is only to take ownership of them, embody them for a time, and then move past them. This is achieved surprisingly well on their third release, and first for the(awesome) Lovepump United label, as form and functionality, while seemingly at odds, come together for a triumphant release. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on my best of list in December 2010.
Like most post-punk bands the rhythm section dictates the mood and direction of the song. To Realize is no exception. “Visions” push the drum-circle like percussion to the forefront, creating buckling, hypnotic beats that fall all over themselves as the song jerks along. “Blood” takes on a minimalist interplay between a brooding bassline, skittering tom hits, and a primitive 2-beat progression. “Desert Highway Music” uses a similar concept of a driving bassline and minimalist drumming, but underneath is a buzzing, oscillating drone that runs circles around your headphones. Every song benefits greatly from the rhythm section being both the backbone and the driving agent. This rhythm-centric approach is not unlike post-punk legends This Heat or L.A drum-n-shout trio Foot Village.
Instrumentation comes in scathing waves on To Realize. These attacks on the senses borrow such atonal sensibilities from No Wave luminaries DNA and Mars to recent unclassifiable juggernauts, Sightings. The addition of squealing, bleating saxophones and trumpets on “Atoms” and “Jamn” seem apropos for this kind of instrumental expressionism. Finding a center to Clipd Beaks is a slippery thing to do. Dig deeper and you find another layer of reverb on top of the guitar, more slightly off beat drum hits, and the aural glue that keeps it all together, those hazy, buzzing drones. These tonal freak-outs, however, never lose track of themselves, the rhythm section is tight as a drum and keeps even the most viscous of free form exploration and druggy drones on a straightforward trajectory.
Probably the most pleasant surprise is that on an album so dedicated to tonal and textural exploration, Clipd Beaks songwriting is pretty top notch. The vocals take on a grating 90s grunge quality Layne Staley would approve of. The most readily accessible example of this is the first single off of To Realize, “Visions” which starts out, “Try to Believe/In Desperate Moments/When clouds become mushrooms/and statues that bleed.” If you think this surreal imagery would inspire a really cool, creepy literal music video, you are right. It is a good songwriter that makes the intangibles seem quite literal. It is refreshing to hear something as formulaic as grunge re-contextualized into something weird and par-for-the-course of late 2000’s experimental music.
To Realize is a perfectly fuzzed out triumph of a record. A sprawling metropolis of 70s-inspired drug-fueled jams, rhythm-centric post-punk, and wide-eyed experimentation in both form and function. Clipd Beaks are hard to resist and if there is any justice in 2010 they will be even harder to miss.