Night Loops is the fourth album from the genre-defying American band Jack O’The Clock, a band I had lost track of since their rather obtuse but still fun second album How Are We Doing And Who Will Tell Us?, released back in 2011.
Band leader Damon Waitkus, having been a student of composition at Mills College, Oakland, California, formed Jack O’The Clock in 2007 with the since departed Nicci Reisnour, having the intention of marrying folk music with a classical composer’s outlook, and the result on Night Loops is a highly interesting and novel mixture of rock-band-as-chamber-orchestra and left-field pop music, driven by much and varied instrumentation.
As if that wasn’t enough, add in some engaging, oblique, and cliché-free lyrics; “God was hungry when he got here, He’ll be hungry when He leaves”, “No-one’s faithful and no-one’s immune”, “There’s something alive and very small, clinging absently to the wall” being but a few examples, and you have a unique and highly enjoyable trip for the thinking music fan.
The secret of Night Loops lies in the percussion. Ten Fingers, a strange confection sounding like an offshoot of a parallel universe mid 1980s Scott Walker album, eventually settles to a strain of dissonant alt-pop, and is held together by the many and intricate layers of real and electronic shakes and rattles. A kind of sparse finger-poppin’ funk informs Bethlehem Watcher, and an eerie acoustic spaciousness driven by cyclical acoustic guitar with later violin and cello embellishments is at the heart of the truly wonderful Come Back Tomorrow. In those three tracks lie the heart and soul of Jack O’The Clock, a band as full of surprises as its name suggests.
The four short bridging tunes highlight by turns the interplay and harmonic complexities of the chamber-rock orchestra in full swing, clarinets and bassoon to the fore, and the band’s penchant for odd electronica and found sounds. One of those four, Familiar 2: Barred Owl, centres on the hoots of the forlorn titular creature, forming the backbone of the piece. This also reveals the arch sense of humour underneath the surface of this seemingly intellectual group of musicians. Perhaps the oddest tune here is How The Light Is Approached, a mess of clock bells, anti-choir arrangements and free jazz on a bassoon; it shouldn’t work but it does. Imagine the end section of Pink Floyd’s Bike being picked up over the ether many thousands of years hence by a race of musically curious aliens and stretched to the nth degree.
Fixture has the juju-man-with- marimba backing once beloved of Tom Waits, with added layers of chamber rock psychedelia, languidly lolloping along with nary a care in the world. Our narrator informs us he doesn’t “come home in the daylight any more” and you can imagine why listening to this little beauty. Avant chamber-rock of the kind you would find over at the AltrOck stable permeates the mischievous Salt Moon, where the guitar figure nods to Fripp. Alt-pop of a Golden Palominos variety is up next on Down Below as Emily Packard’s lead voice tells us of “A whole other show, going on down below”; it would be a single, if folk could remember what they were.
After the dislocated off-kilter funk of As Long As the Earth Lasts, a tune that uses a passage from Genesis as its lyric, and the previously described Familiar 2… we conclude with the regretful melancholy of Rehearsing The Long Walk Home, which features some delightful guitar work and hammered percussion, all at a slow pace that compliments the wistful lyric perfectly. It is a lovely song with which to end a fine album that anyone with a taste for the less obvious will welcome to their ears without reservation. Night Loops is another contender for album of the year in my book.
01. Ten Fingers (7:40)
02. Bethlehem Watcher (4:35)
03. Tiny Sonographic Heart (1:03)
04. Come Back Tomorrow (6:54)
05. How the Light is Approached (2:51)
06. Familiar 1:
– Night Heron Over Harrison Square (1:42)
07. Fixture (5:38)
08. Furnace (1:11)
09. Salt Moon (3:17)
10. Down Below (4:31)
11. As Long As the Earth Lasts (6:16)
12. Familiar 2: Barred Owl (2:01)
13. Rehearsing the Long Walk Home (6:31)
Total Time – 54:10
Damon Waitkus – Voice, Guitar, Hammer Dulcimer, etc
Emily Packard – Violins & Voice
Kate McLoughlin – Bassoon, Voice & Recorder
Jason Hoopes – Bass & Voice
Jordan Glenn – Drums, Percussion, Mallet & Voice
Bobby Akash – Log Drum
Art Elliot – Pipe Organ
Karl Evangelista – Electric Guitar
Ivor Holloway – Tenor & Soprano Saxophones
Sarah Howe – Voice
Josh Packard – Cello
Jonathan Russell – Bass Clarinet, Bb Clarinet & Birdcalls
Eli Wise – Vocals
Cory Wright – Clarinet & Baritone Saxophone
Record Label: Independent
Year Of Release: 2014