Clearlake – Cedars
Jason Pegg - Vocals, Guitar, Keys
Sam Hewitt - Keys, Samples
Dave Woodward - Bass
James Butcher - Drums
When Clearlake came on the scene with their 2001 debut Lido
, listeners found themselves bored by the dreariness of a band trying it’s hardest to conjure up emotion to the point where the final product was unfocused and barely listenable. I mean, does the world really need a collection of songs that makes the sulkiest Morrissey album seem cheerful? The answer is no. It was for this reason that I was skeptical when I was told that their second album Cedars
was a big step up for the band. Sure, it still is hardly something you are going to want to listen to while sitting on the beach sipping daiquiris, and that is not what it is intended for. Make no mistake this is a sad band, and this album is for sad times, and we all have those. Cedars
is an album of hope, and amidst the scores of Britpop bands that are sprouting up all the time, it is a record that is worth separating from the masses and making a part of your collection.
The album opener is the sinister “The Mind is Evil”, utilizing the lowest of the low piano keys. You know the ones all the way on the left that are just too low for most songs to pull off? Well this one pulls it off nicely with a guitar riff that fades in and out and some orchestral strings laid overtop that add a nice contrast to the piano. The vocals are very pretty as the song begins, and the song builds up to a nice climax about halfway in. Lyrically this song is well written, and the pain vocalist Jason Pegg feels is conveyed wonderfully.
The next song, “Wonder if the Snow Will Settle”, is one of the highlights on the album. Repetitive rhythm guitar riffs and prominent drums pace the song. There is a nice piano accompaniment on the chorus of “I wonder if the snow will settle on the ground this year. I wonder weather losing you was such a good idea. “What’s the point of worrying how will things turn out? Why spoil the surprise?” This is such a delicate and moving song.
“Can’t Feel a Thing” has a driving guitar opening before an abrupt halt and some distant soft vocals. They quickly build up into a solid loud guitar riff and the yelling of the chorus. The powerful guitar riff follows each lull in the song and the soft-hard-soft-hard theme works rather well with this type of song. It also leads well into “I’d Like to Hurt You”, one of the odder songs here. A funky little piano intro before the piano leaves abruptly and a swirly synth comes in. “I wouldn’t hurt a fly, but I’d really like to punish you. You want to know why? Cause I don’t have a good excuse.” The funky piano comes back in for the chorus, but the verse again utilizes only the swirling synth. This is one of those that I have to give them credit for trying, and it is definitely out of the ordinary, but it is not one of the stronger songs on the album.
“Come Into the Darkness” starts out as an unfocused mess. There are distorted guitar riffs and scattered drumming just sort of thrown out there before the guitar becomes tight, maintaining the distortion, and becoming the driving force of the song. The vocals here don’t fit the rest of the song very well because everything except the vocals is very promising. I like the shimmering effect on the distorted guitar and really the riffs are nice and catchy. Not a bad song but the potential for a great song here that wasn’t made is disappointing.
“Just Off the Coast” has some funky and amazingly catchy guitar licks. The vocals are a bit nonchalant, and I would really like if they were a bit more focused, but musically this song is so tight that I can let the vocals slide just a bit. It is slowly paced, and really allows the guitar to refocus the song at times which is nice. It leads into another album highlight, “Keep Smiling”, which is a delicate song and lyrically it is a powerful song about not expressing yourself or your opinion, but rather just “keep smiling” and “don’t say how you really feel. You won’t be helping anything.”
The next song “It’s All Too Much” takes a while to get into. The first 40 seconds are barely audible. Then some sulky vocals come in begging for an empathetic ear. Instruments are this point are barely audible and in fact even when they are they are only a little glimpse of a distorted guitar here or there. That is until around 3 minutes into the song when the drums kick in and the guitar distortion hits hard for 20 seconds or so before abruptly going silent. The song builds up for one final climax near the end.
“Treat Yourself With Kindness” is the type of song that I have no clue why I like it, but I do. There is a crazy dissonance played by the guitar that theoretically shouldn’t sound good at all, but somehow it sounds brilliant. The vocals fit the song perfectly and the song just chugs along at one pace. Vocally each word is emphasized on each beat in a way that makes it just addictive. The song builds up for a first time before calming back down to just the dissonant guitar and faint drumming and vocals. The weakness in the vocals is the strength of this song and it is one of the most amazing listening experiences I have had in a long time. It leads just perfectly into the album closer “Trees in the City” which is the albums comedown song. It is soft, happy, and a real pick me up. The sadness in the vocals juxtaposed with the shining instruments and lyrics is pulled off much better than I expected and solidifies this as one of the best albums of 2003.
This is an album which slowly has grown from “eh, not that great” to “It’s ok” to “Wow, not bad at all” to “I can’t wait to get to my cd player so I can listen to this Clearlake song”. The album contains styles and songs that are totally unique and wonderful and I highly recommend getting this album. It isn’t tops on my list, nor is it a flawless album, but it is very strong nonetheless.