Music Reviews
Amber

Clearlake Amber

(Domino) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

In some circles, there seems to be an unwritten rule that if a band is not pushing towards the edges of what's been done, if it's not challenging the norm, then the band is not worth listening to. It's the Catwalk Hat theory, extrapolated - if you're not pushing experimentalism then your sound is automatically dated and irrelevant, because you're pushing goods that are dumbed-down versions of other peoples' music. Obviously, this makes it pretty difficult to come up with a good record, at least by these criteria. Think around, surely you know someone who'll only listen to obscure and difficult music, and wouldn't touch anything that's charted with a bargepole, specifically because it's charted?

Domino are doing a pretty good job of straddling both sides of the coin nowadays. Where the wilful experimentation of Four Tet satisfies the pseuds, Franz Ferdinand and the ubiquitous Arctic Monkeys are filling the coffers and pleasing the populists. There's a pretty high level of quality control at the label, and that's what makes Clearlake worth listening to: quality. What I've been trying to say, in a roundabout way is that Clearlake aren't really doing anything new, but what they do, they do well.

Amber kicks off with the tinny electric guitar riff and big old drums of No Kind Of Life, which also demonstrates the peculiarly English (yet not grating - a rarity) vocals of Jason Pegg - pretty yet substantial, harmonies coming at all sorts of unexpected angles. What's most apparent on this record is that despite having a fairly eclectic approach to creating a pop song, and cooking up the occasionally psych-y moment to epic-ify the songs, if there's one emphasis on here, it's on great melodies. Finally Free is a pretty standard Britpop-tempo number to bop along to in a manner redolent of sunny days spent listening to Dodgy or Cast. What sets it apart is a good, old-fashioned melody, applying great rhythm within the lyrics to a chunky and straightforward back beat.

There are no poor songs on here, each has it's own individual charms. No filler then, but is it all killer? Well, to a point. As I say, all the songs are good enough, but they won't all blow your minds like a few of them will. The title track and the closing pair, Widescreen and It's Getting Light Outside are in turns eerie, grandiose and captivating, and are for me the highlights of the record although they're probably not the most representative. It's surely the sign of a classy record, however, when you name some highlights and then keep thinking of tracks which also float your boat: Neon has a deadly riff; I Hate It That I Got What I Wanted barrels along at full speed, all dynamic and propulsive; Pegg's voice has an emotive edge which never descends beyond the merest whisper on Dreamt That You Died, but the quietest point on the album is nonetheless moving and sombrely beautiful.

Through the might power of the interpipe I found the Pitchforkmedia review of Cedars, Clearlake's last in 2003. They opened with a Betjeman quote before unleashing the usual verbal diarrhoea of praise upon it - I can't imagine ever writing like this, I'd drive myself slowly insane. Still, if Amber doesn't garner the same praise then it's surely a myopic decision, as this is a high-class album from a great British band. If Domino's current success can be sustained, 2006 may be a good year for Clearlake.