Clean – Mister Pop

January 01, 1970

(Merge)

 

www.mergerecords.com

 

The
Clean’s music sneaks up on you, coalescing out of lo-fi hazes and indeterminant
grooves, its melodies nonchalant to the point of slackness, its slanting,
Eastern-toned guitars glinting in the corners of fog-bound jams.  It’s a band that hardly seems to be trying at
all, let alone trying for pop, so when it occurs to you, several listens in,
that “In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul” is a nearly perfect
Beatles-esque pop song, it’s a surprise. A very pleasant surprise. Still it
shouldn’t be, because The Clean has been turning out slow-revealing, iridescent
grooves for three decades now, and Mister Pop is only the latest of
these gradually blossoming triumphs.

 

Mister
Pop
is the first
new studio album in eight years for The Clean, bringing together the band’s
core line-up – David and Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott – in a sound that is
noticeably more pop than 2001’s Getaway. The album starts,
incongruously, with “Loog”‘s Stereolab-ish drone, all shivery keyboards and
wordless female vocals, a track whose airy sweetness is only slightly fuzzed
with distortion. Yo La Tengo has never denied the Clean’s influence on them. Here
is the Clean taking cues right back from them. The second track “Are You Really
On Drugs” is janglier, more percussive, the vocals echoing in empty rooms over
an insistent beat, the bridge shot through with the distinctive sound of David Kilgour
finding a note on his guitar and letting it hang in the ether. But it is not
until “Dreamlife” that the band really hits its stride, Hamish Kilgour slapping
out a raucous beat, David bending notes in serpentine whorls and mandalas, airy
harmonies following his melodic lines in clouds and wafts of dreaminess. “Back
in the Day” slouches charmingly, a loose-jointed groove knit to spoke-sung
observations, (among them, “I’m not here for a long time/I’m just here for a
good time”). It’s the sort of song that seems to barely hang together, that
might be winking at you or just perhaps closing its eyes, and yet it does come
together with an indefiniteness that evokes rather than blurs.

 

David
Kilgour is, naturally, the album’s dominant voice, but others in the band get
their turn as well. Bassist Robert Scott wrote two songs for the album, the
wonderfully 1960s mystic “Asleep in the Tunnel” and even slower, even trippier
“All Those Notes.” This later tune closes out the album in an almost religious
haze, his reverbed vocals disappearing into the stratosphere as Scott’s
clanking, pick-dragging bass roughens the sound. And in the instrumental
“Moonjumper,” Hamish Kilgour’s drumming is the engine that propels forward
motion, always insistent, occasionally explosive, both keeping the piece
together and blowing it, periodically, apart. The cut, with its droning
textures of string and organ, might easily dissolve into mush without him, and
with him, it never loses its tension.

 

This is
easily one of the year’s best albums, both a dream-fuzzed journey through
non-linear states of consciousness and a well-crafted pop album. Play it a few
times first losing yourself in its cloudy textures, then to finding guide ropes
of melody that will lead you through to the end. It’s well worth the effort.

 

Standout
Tracks
: “In the
Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul”, “Factory Man” “Asleep in the Tunnel” JENNIFER KELLY

 

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