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Clearlake | Cedars | review | alternative | Lollipop


Cedars (Domino)
by Tim Den

I have just been blindsided. While crossing the intersection of The Smiths and McCartney, Clearlakes wiped against the side of my head with the former's gloom and the latter's delicate melodies, sending me spinning onto the sidewalk, dazed and smiling. Did I expect some unknown UK band to smack me so hard that I'm already seeing it in my year-end top 10 list? No. Am I glad it did? Fuck yeah.

Sonically, it doesn't get much closer to The Smiths than Cedars. The odd mesh of minor and major progressions, the jangly raucus of the guitars, the speedy chug of the train-like drums (especially on opener "Almost the Same" and "Can't Feel a Thing")... not to mention guitarist/vocalist Jason Pegg's romantically nasal delivery. But even though the style might fool you into dismissing Clearlake as an '80s-fixated Brit rock band, it's the songs that do the real damage. Not since The Delgados' Hate have I heard an album so solid with marvelous structures – no fillers in sight – every hook and riff seemingly irresistable. The way they bloom, song after song, is almost like watching a ballet dancer slowly stretch her limbs in zero gravity. The movements are calculated and immaculate, yet free enough to make sense to both your head and your heart. Seriously, it's impossible for me to even highlight songs and/or parts of 'em, cuz they are all top notch.
But if I had to, I'd pinpoint "Treat Yourself With Kindness," "Trees in the City," "Keep Smiling," and "The Mind is Evil" as the best examples of Cedars' magnificence. All four boast supernaturally addictive melodies, none of 'em even remotely similar to each other (be it tempo, chord changes, or vocal phrasing). And I'd be remiss to leave out Pegg's lyrical mastery. Some songwriters excel at metaphorical imagery, some at heart-on-sleeves confessionals, but Pegg lies somewhere between the two. Although blunt in his prose (see song titles such as "I'd Like to Hurt You," "We All Die Alone," and "Wonder if the Snow Will Settle"), his word choice for each song not only fits the music, but creates an unexplainable dramatic effect when combined with the vocal melodies. A case of "so simple, it becomes complex"? Perhaps. Whatever the reason, Pegg's downtrodden and tell-it-like-it-is lyrics turn into revelations when coupled with the music. If you don't relate to them, you have no soul.
A rare record in this day and age, Cedars is a testament to the power of substance over style. Whoever said you had to reinvent the wheel to travel faster, you just got overtaken by Clearlake's Little Cardboard Racer That Could.
(PO Box 566 New York, NY 10276)

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