Unusual in the World of Rock, though not unheard of, there are no guitars on Earth Mother Grapefruit. The absence of guitar, in some ways, is a bold move, as it unshackles Clamb from the expectations we have of a classic rock sound. A progressive move!
Unusual, but not unheard of – not having guitars on your rock(?) album is surprisingly common! Royal Blood and Emerson Lake and Palmer spring to mind – though Greg Lake often played guitar. I Googled ‘Rock Bands Without Guitars’ and found a rather suspiciously inaccurate list of 33 such examples such as Egg, Guapo (Kavus Torabi is in Guapo, but nice try Ultimate-Guitar.com) and Weather Report.
Arguably, and putting Progressive Metal to the side, electric guitar traditionally appeals to one’s feelings, not necessarily to the intellect. Visceral. According to University of California, Berkeley, the subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least thirteen overarching feelings: amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and, yes, feeling “pumped up”. Pop music goes for at least five of those, I reckon.
Are Clamb a Pop band? How many of those emotions do they elicit? Clamb is a splendid example of how three guys in a band made up of keyboards, bass and drums can come together and produce music that is blissfully unlike ELP, and no musician has a check list of emotions they want their listeners to feel, do they?
Besides, there are other emotions that the Berkeley scientists clearly don’t have the vocabulary to describe – like the feeling you get when a famous US comedian is playing a P.I. and, gun in hand, he’s quietly breaking a skylight on a factory roof to gather evidence on the people packing cocaine into crates of coffee. We’ve all been there. That’s what I get from Oyster Sunday.
Then again there’s the feeling you get when you’ve awoken from a dream in a cold sweat where you’ve plummeted off a cliff having been chased by an Audi A8 full of dentists, which I got from Land Breath, or the discomfort you might have watching a sci-fi movie with your Mum in which the male and female protagonists get out of their space suits and have a “special moment” together in an airlock, which is how I interpreted Fields Cornelius.
These descriptions of emotion alone should tell you that this album is surprisingly diverse. Though the first couple of tracks have a certain relentless electronic repetitiveness, Eggs in the Mainstream is a vehicle showing just how good a drummer Josh Merhar is. Actually, all the tracks are.
By the third track, Clamb are beginning to come across as soundscapers. Power Pyramid fades out with an interesting synth loop which, in the olden days, probably would have been perfect for one of those infinite loops that are cut into the run-off bit around the label on a vinyl record.
By Triangular Fÿord there’s a step into different territory. This eight-minute track manifests from a collection of musical ideas that set it apart from the first few tracks. I particularly enjoyed the first couple of minutes of bass noodling, but the bass and drums settle back into a restrained groove that act as the bedrock to the almost whale song-like keyboard sounds layered over them. The result wouldn’t seem out of place on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, or some of the more experimental Eno music. Whether or not Clamb intended it to be, for me, this is the stand-out track.
And then an unexpected and pleasing change of pace comes with Party Pyramid, in which they’re possibly placing a deferential nod to the funkiness of Stevie Wonder in his long period of partnership with The Original New Timbral Orchestra.
What’s that emotion you get when you watched a video on VHS in 1987 and there’s a scene where the protagonist is inexplicably able to hold a conversation in a discotheque with the love interest without either raising their voices to some music that wasn’t even proper disco, and then 30 years later you find out that the music they were dancing to was actually some properly respected cult band that you knew about but nobody else did unless they were in the know, with early Simple Minds bass player Derek Forbes sitting in for their own bass player, who was in rehab at the time and had read it on the soundtrack album? Yeah, that.
In conclusion, I have to put on my serious face and ask: Have Clamb capitalised on being unshackled from the expectations we have of a classic rock sound?
In many places, yes. In some respects, the album doesn’t get off to a fantastic start as I don’t believe they start with their strongest material. But there are some really great bits to get your teeth into and it certainly sparked my imagination! Some songs feel a little like incidental music for TV shows and they sometimes fall slightly short of falling into a groove because of almost clinical accuracy. I’m guessing that Clamb might have been forced to substitute one shackle for another – relying on a click track. So many recordings over the last 18 months simply couldn’t be made where all the players were playing together in the same room (for obvious reasons). Remote recording is helped by having a click track to ensure they all play the right things at the right time!
Yet in other places Clamb absolutely shines. I can see massive potential in the band, and I genuinely hope that Clamb build on this. I look forward to their next release.
01. Four Step Ascension (5:48)
02. Eggs in the Mainstream (4:47)
03. Power Pyramid (3:52)
04. Triangular Fÿord (8:43)
05. Party Pyramid (4:27)
06. Oyster Sunday (4:49)
07. Land Breath (5:23)
08. Fields Cornelius (3:36)
09. “Eggs” (2:45)
Total Time – 44:09
Joshua Merhar – Drums
Jameson Stewart – Bass
Peter Danilchuk – Synthesiser
Record Label: Mint 400
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 4th June 2021