By, Kyle Kralowetz
The most beautiful thing about the Clues is the explosion of sound, assonance, and clarity we are rewarded with for seeing the band through their murky verses and sonic experimentations. Not to say the acoustically chaotic portions are any less satisfying, quite the contrary, they set the stage for epic refrains and bring you to the edge of your seat in anticipation of the catharsis of the chorus. The sensation is like finding a decoder ring halfway through a box of sugar cereal. Your palate will certainly sweet of synthesizers and staccato, but rest assured; Alden Penner is two bars back with the insulin injection of overdrive and halftime.
Penner, founder of the now disbanded Unicorns, exorcises some of the elements that made his former group an indie super nova, burning brilliantly but briefly with their only EP, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? Clues keeps the idiosyncratic melodies and urgency characteristic of the Unicorns, yet feels more mature- the less furry next step on that evolution of man chart. Foreboding dragons replace ebullient unicorns as the songs descend into a place where, “the gulls have never seen the sea…/the sparrows have no place to speak…/and the streets are run by crows”. Penner’s disenchantment and jadedness are almost tangible, which oddly anchors the ethereal soundscape of the album in a sense of abject humanity. Some of my favorites: “Wear a mushroom cloud tattoo/Inked as a costume/Remember severed head/Give me a peal of the softness”, or, “And now I know/That the game of node/Was a uniform that has been designed/By the public eye”. The theme of illusion seems to reflect a mistrust of convention and complacency leading Penner to inquire on the last track, “Hey now hold on/Is this what we really, really want/ Or what we are told”?
Unfortunately, the most publicity generated by this album will probably come from the lawsuit Beyonce slapped them with. According to the band’s website, the suit alleges the intro to ‘You Have My Eyes Now’ is too similar to Beyonce’s Grammy nominated single, ‘Halo’.
While we wait for that drama to play out, may I suggest checking out the aforementioned controversial song as well as, ‘Remember Severed Head’ ,’Crows’, and ‘Ledmonton’ to shake any seasonal blues or general malaise? There are more layers to this onion than anyone would anticipate and, as their name suggests, the music bears several spins to be truly appreciated.