Since the mid-’90s, British guitar acts have served as models of
familiarity, their stale interpretations of a tired style often
falling on deaf ears. A scant few – Blur, Radiohead – have managed
to move on, mostly through drastic style changes. British quartet
Clearlake have the unenviable chore of trying to push a dying sound
on a bored audience. Working in their favor is a knack for clever
arrangements and unique songwriting, and on Cedars,
Clearlake crafts their baroque pop into elaborate sets for Jason
Pegg’s wide-screen vocal delivery.

Janna Hutz

Shifting from the chugging guitar elevation of “Almost the Same”
to the solemn, martial balladry of “Wonder If the Snow Will
Settle,” the group aims for the sort of captivating art-rock of
fellow UK acts the Smiths and the Doves. Pegg shifts brilliantly
from the compassionate menace of “I’d Like to Hurt You” to the
fragile cynicism of “Keep Smiling,” transforming tired topics into
compelling drama with his confident tenor. “Just Off the Coast” is
a haughty guitar jaunt, and “Treat Yourself With Kindness” should
have a permanent place in every anglophile’s heart. Though Pegg’s
vocals are the obvious focus, the band deserves credit for its
tireless detail: the album thrives not only on Pegg’s arching
melody, but on the shifty sway of the troupe’s compositions.

If the group has a fault, it’s that it doesn’t offer experienced
listeners anything new: They’re smart, fresh, and clever, but
they’re not groundbreaking. For all of its energy, “Can’t Feel a
Thing” sinks into its own aggression, and “Come Into the Darkness”
folds under weighty lyrics. “It’s All Too Much” attempts to break
the mold, with it’s solitary vocal floating over a bed of cracking
guitars. The sound is sparse and intriguing, and while repeated
listens reveal a somewhat listless melody, the band would do well
taking more sonic risks.

UK guitar bands are too often over-hyped, their flaws too often
ignored for their pedigree, but Clearlake deserves attention for
both its impressive songwriting skills and its unique, skillful
composition. Cedars is, quite simply, one of the most
charismatic and entrancing song cycles of the year.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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