Clare & the Reasons Take It To the Next Level
Fronted by husband-wife duo Clare and Olivier Manchon, Brooklyn chamber pop band Clare & the Reasons have a new album out, KR-51, taking its name from a German autobahn. Like their previous three albums, the songs on this one feature a swirly, hypnotic blend of icy electronic keyboards and lush orchestration. Imagine Kate Bush at her most straightforward, or a more psychedelic version of the Universal Thump, and you’re on the right track. Clare’s chirpy high soprano is more expressive, more varied and more somber here: it sounds like she’s been listening to a lot of Marissa Nadler. Likewise, the music has a lot more gravitas than their more quirky previous releases: there’s none of the grating whimsy that would occasionally rear its self-indulgent head where least desired. There’s nothing here quite up to the level of Murder, They Want Murder – the gorgeously mysterious noir pop vignette from their 2009 Arrow album – but this one is solid all the way through. There literally isn’t a bad song here.
The opening track, The Lake sets a deceptively poppy tone, a vividly lyrical portrait of clinical depression matched by the coldness of the music, capped by an echoey synth hook that wouldn’t be out of place in a song by, say, Missing Persons. Similarly, Make Them Laugh is surreal but has a disquieting edge: steel pan and banjo add liveliness over the cloudy banks of strings and loopy broken chords on the synths. They follow that with the trippy, minimalist new wave tune Bass Face, punctuated by staccato blasts from Bob Hart’s guitar.
This Too Shall Pass blends goth angst with a steampunk vibe: it’s the closest thing to Marissa Nadler here, a long, hypnotically orchestratd vamp growing stormier by degrees, subsiding and then rising again. One of the coolest things about this album is that the song structures never follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern, and this is a prime example. Woodwinds bubble incongruously over a creepy modal electric piano riff on The Mauerpark – it sounds like a mashup of vintage Moody Blues and late-period ELO. Biting, offcenter Robert Fripp-style guitar, fuzz bass and hammering keys drive the next track, PS, an equally strange but compelling blend of mid-70s King Crimson art-rock and buzzy early Wire-style new wave. Then they go back to the artsy trip-hop of much of their previous work on the pulsing, hypnotic Step In the Gold.
The best song on the album is Colder, a brooding anthem that eventually hits a towering, majestic angst: “When will it get better, when will it better?” is the mantra, Clare’s voice rising to a rare, gritty, imploring tone. After that, Last Picture Sbow is somewhat of a letdown, nicking a popular Radiohead riff. They follow that with the shapeshifting Westward, which begins fluttery and minimalist and then shifts back and forth from a catchy noir pop melody, orchestration and guitars joining the mix and then receding: it’s a triumph of imaginative tunesmithing. The last song is Magpie, a rather stark, distantly Beatlesque, artsy folk-pop song. If you managed to catch one of their recent Bowery Ballroom shows, you most likely got to hear a lot of this in a more stripped-down format. The album is out now on their Frog Stand Records label.