Review Summary: No laughing matter.
After two discs (21 tracks) of Antic Clay's (Aka lone performer Michael Bradley’s) low-voiced laments and dark acoustic exercises, my brain was a hollowed-out, dust-filled husk, every bit of organic material deadened and dried by hours of reverb-drenched depressive psalms, droning waltz-time odes to sorrow, death and regret numbing every sense until eyes see only shades of grey, ears like deformed lumps of clay, brain struggling for balance, dehydrated and malnourished from hours in the musically vacant desert of Antic Clay’s sullen expression of endless minor-key disappointments.
This bulging collection of deep-voiced loping acoustic grief seems cut from the same cloth as Swans mellower moments (unsurprisingly, Bradley has done some work with Jarboe), but whereas Michael Gira would use this type of material as springboard to set up some kind of clubfooted, megadistorted eruption, demented choir melody or god-knows-what-else, Antic Clay is like a single acoustic intro that never seems to end.
It’s not the instrumentation that’s lacking. Bradley splashes bits of color here and there like the violin in “Red Grass Black Pasture”, some whistling in “Undrown Yourself” and his harmonica which shrieks with the charm of an Irish tin whistle in a handful of tracks. He flirts with a galloping tempo in “On Holy Mountain”, and the vocal hooks in “Table of Souls” set up a creepy Danzig-like campfire mood. The confounding lack of drums is difficult to stomach at first, but the main issue that keeps the songs from springing to life is his voice. His unwavering Nick Cave-drenched-in-reverb tone and woeful undertaker delivery colors everything with the same sullen brush.
It’s not all bad. Some of the songs have a sort of pub-folk charm, like the merry pirate tankard-clanker “Roll Black Ocean” and the playful drinking anthem “Islay and Ale”, lyrics like I drink to the devil who summoned the gale
building a sort of gothic tribal energy. But it’s hard not to imagine how a ninja of folk guitar like Richard Thompson would bring these stripped-bare songs to life with idiosyncratic solos full of depth and drama.
One of the most important elements in setting up a mood of dread or sadness is melodic tension, and this process often requires both light and shade. The problem with this album is it’s black-on-black refusal to explore any light whatsoever. The album stays in its dank comfort zone for an excruciatingly long time, preventing the listener from ever finding theirs.