Cleft have been ripping math-rock a new one for five years now, and they figure that’s enough time to be doing that. They’ve announced they will be splitting up later this year, on good terms and with a cozy feeling of satisfaction at their accomplishments, but not before unleashing this final beast of a record, titled “Wrong”. I invite you to see just what kind of musical shenanigans the “turbo-prog” duo are committing to the thankless task of making us miss them forever.
RELEASE DATE: 09 May 2016 LABEL: Self-released
Starting off, let me just say that if you’re like me, namely a low-energy kind of person, this album will feel like being plugged into a 220V wall socket, while on a Red Bull intra-venous drip, right after John Travolta stabbed a syringe full of adrenaline straight through your breastplate. If you’re a high-octane kind of person, then welcome to what I must assume is the soundtrack to your life, even as you furiously brush your teeth in the morning. Its structure leads me to think of a chemical called azioazide azide (dibs on the band name!), which is probably the most reactive substance known to man, to such an extent that scientists admit to having no appropriate scale of measuring just how reactive it is. Oh, by “reactive” I mean, “it blows up”. It blew up when they placed it in a shock-proof container, in the dark, in a vault. Someone must have thought about it funny. In any case, that’s the vibe I get from this album – most of the time it’s full-on rhythmic onslaught, except for the times when it’s patiently preparing to become full-on rhythmic onslaught.
There’s a delicious type of humor woven into “Wrong”, which Cleft have been employing from the very start of their hectic career. Humor is no small feat for an instrumental band, especially if it’s just a duo. Guitars and drums, that’s all, and yet, their pacing, their relationship with their own sound, the way the songs develop, all of these form very sharp narratives, acrobatic contrasts, and the disparate elements coalesce into eloquence. Yes, the tracks themselves seem very angular and abrupt, enough to fell a little sketchy, underdeveloped maybe – but that’s only if you take them out of context. The devil is in the details, and in the flow of the record, the way each burst melts into the next, and in the muffled screams of excitement on tracks like “Faceplant”, where John offers a hilarious addition to the joyous energy already being conveyed. Cleft are having fun playing this music, and it’s definitely a contagious feeling.
One would think that the stripped-down White Stripes formula would end up sounding monotonous or at least a little stale, but Cleft are here to prove the skeptics wrong one last time. The dynamic and tonal range these guys have is amazing, and they achieve it all through sheer skill – thus preserving their refreshing authenticity and tongue-in-cheek irony. No ridiculous effects, no try-hard struggling to find relevance, no worries about being saturated. Just honest, badass riffing and genuinely interesting choices all around, from composition to production.
Speaking of production, Cleft have done something almost nobody does on purpose nowadays – they’ve declared war on the homogeneously produced album by recording in four different studios, with four different teams behind the buttons, and then went one step further, and recorded three of the tracks live, with just one microphone in the room. These are the “tribute” tracks, titled “Lemmy”, “Alan” and “David”, bringing a topical sort of vibe to the album and acting more like interludes than anything else, interruptions in the supercharged race that the rest of the album consists of (which is arguably exactly what the passings of Lemmy Kilminster, Alan Rickman and David Bowie acted like for the lives of so many music and film lovers earlier this year). So, taking into account the incongruous but welcome tribute tracks, the record is deliberately made out to sound like a patchwork of five different production styles. This would constitute a proverbial “hot mess” for any other band, but I would argue that in the case of Cleft, it helps their sound reach a whole new level of variation and detail. Mind you, the differences aren’t huge, but they’re just enough to keep you guessing, just enough to surprise and engage, to give that extra depth to an ultimately limiting tonal vocabulary.
The gamble pays off, as far as I’m concerned, even if sometimes the cymbals end up sounding a little over-emphasized. It is a bold experiment and I credit them for doing it, although I expect this album will sound very different from equipment to equipment: I’ve tried three playback devices and the overall experience is surprisingly different on each of them. Fresh and exciting, on the one hand, and woefully inconsistent from another perspective (one I don’t necessarily agree with, but time will tell).
One thing is certain: Cleft are saying goodbye in a massively entertaining way. This album is one hell of a party, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an energizing jolt straight to the brain stem. Hats off to the best if not only “turbo-prog” band there ever was! You shall be missed!