Thursday, January 13, 2011

Record review: Save The Clocktower - 'Carousel'

Posted by Sasha

Ours is a culture fueled by nostalgia. It seems that most of the innovations of this millennium are simply new methods of distributing content invented before the digital age. It's not a bad thing, just an odd thing, and one that can lead to creative reassembly of 20th century fragments. Carousel is one such collage. At its core, it draws from the pop and shoegaze of the early '90s; most songs on the record wouldn't sound out of place over nascent CGI or grainy home video loops. It's fitting that a band named Save The Clocktower would be time travelers, taking us back into a charmingly stylized version of our past.

That's not to say there's nothing new here. Like Doc Brown, Save The Clocktower were scientists before they were adventure heroes, and there's plenty of textural experimentation to keep us engaged. "Drip" kicks off strong with heavy pulses and danceable beats overlaid with electronic aether that wouldn't sound out of place on a Caribou record. It swirls down into the jet engine guitars of "You Got Me," a catchy, hazy number influenced as much by My Bloody Valentine as it is by contemporaneous one hit wonders. The vocal quality feels more in the world of post-punk; syllables are short and strong, but melodic enough to keep interest. 

Carousel pushes to opposite ends of its rock/dance spectrum nearly halfway through its length. "They" lets up on the dance beats for a straight soft rock track complete with gentle organic percussion and acoustic guitar. As soon as we're lulled by the glockenspiels, Save The Clocktower plugs us back into the mainframe with "The One Thing," an eerie electronica track propelled by cyclical robot chants in the style of Daft Punk. It's a moment that shouldn't work, but does; the progression of layers, beats and textures is handled with such craft as to be absolutely compelling. The vocals, with their barely discernible lyrics, repeat and repeat and gain meaning with every rotation. It's a risky move with high reward, a track fueled entirely by rhythm and texture on an album where melody is often prioritized.

We fall back into the middle for the second half of the record; no more risks, just well-constructed pop songs steeped in low-fi electronics. Fans of the '80s will recognize Depeche Mode and the Jesus and Mary Chain among the influences here; fans of '90s radio will recognize hints of Oasis, Babylon Zoo, even Stereo MC's. Save The Clocktower put care into their throwbacks, incorporating them smoothly and probably creating some accidental associations (I hope no band ever sets out to remind their listeners of Stereo MC's). More than anything, Carousel maintains a deep and intangible link to the innocence of the era it invokes, the sunny age of the dot com bubble. It's a pre-Bush, pre-recession, pre-hipster sound that conjures the colors of pre-adulthood. A strong sophomore effort from Save The Clocktower, Carousel is quite a tour in the Delorean.

'Carousel' is currently anticipating a February release. Until then, you can catch them at Empty Bottle with Color Radio and Ra Cailum on Saturday, January 15th. Tickets are $8 and available here. The band is also set to play a record release show February 26th at Hideout with Violetness. Keep up with Save The Clocktower via Twitter and Facebook, and check out one of the new tracks, The One Thing," below.

Check out more record reviews:
Carta Marina - 'End of an Era'
Hemmingbirds - 'Death Wave'
Archie Powell & the Exports - 'Skip Work'
Manwomanchild - self-titled LP

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