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Cynical Brits Clearlake deliver a humdinger

Matthew Solarski | Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Should the illustrious isle of our forefathers, Great Britain, ever find itself forced to restrict its exports to but two, please let them be cynicism and great music. With that said, let us now extend a hearty, red-blooded American welcome to Clearlake. On their latest offering, Cedars, the British rock outfit has achieved both par excellence. Clearlake came together relatively recently, consisting of lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Jason Pegg; guitarist and keyboardist Sam Hewitt; bassist David Woodward; and drummer James Butcher. These boys have crafted twelve superb tracks of it – all worthy of serious listening. Guitars ascend, crash and simmer. Eerie piano lines weave their way among brooding vocal harmonies. Smoldering bass-lines set the foundation for a concise but affecting lyrical parade.Only the cynical Brits can take a sunny aphorism like “keep smiling” – from the track of the same name – and twist it into a snide assault on the misrepresentation of one’s true sentiments. Pegg quips: “Keep smiling / It’ll make things that much easier / Don’t say how you really feel / You won’t be helping anyone.” A similar dark humor pervades “The Mind Is Evil,” a string-adorned tune that could almost be the lead character’s lamentation number in a musical. Here, Pegg proclaims: “And sometimes I think / if I killed off my mind / Then my heart and I / would be free.” Not to wax optimistic for long, however, the singer quickly adds, “But somehow it knows / what I’m thinking about / And it’s always / that one step ahead of me.” Futilitarianism never sounded so good.Interestingly, the record in many ways echoes the cadences of the natural day. The opening track, “Almost The Same,” bursts forth from the stereo like a rude awakening, only to instantly mollify any disgruntled sleeper with an uber-catchy, driving melody and harmonious vocals. The tracks that follow are decidedly more up-tempo and somehow daytime-oriented. Midway through the album, a ghostly locomotive rumbles in, heralding the arrival of night and the woozy number “Keep Smiling.” From here on out, the tracks roll into one another, expertly evoking the many moods of the witching hour, from the exaltation of “Treat Yourself With Kindness” to the drunken waltzing of “Trees In The City.” By the album’s end, Clearlake has taken the listener on an aural journey that is not soon forgotten.Clearlake appears to be one of those rare bands whose approach seems wholly conventional and yet wildly innovative all at once. In this regard they recall American counterparts Remy Zero, however musically their style is more in tune with that of early Blur. Indeed, tracks like “There’s No Other Way” would feel right at home among the poppier numbers on Cedars.If the album falters in any realm, it’s lyrically, and even then only at forgivable intervals. At times it seems Clearlake is guilty of redundancy for the sake of rhyme, tacking on needless phrases for the sole purpose of scoring an easy phonetic match. A master pop songwriter can achieve rhyme, rhythm and melody while retaining the seamless flow of a narrative that actually goes places. And while Clearlake has not quite attained this, the band is well on its way, and these minor faults hardly detract from the sheer enjoyment of a listen to Cedars.All in all, the land across the pond does not disappoint, yet again.

Contact Matthew Solarski at msolarsk@nd.edu