Introduction to Alchemy
Self Released ($.99 on bandcamp)
The reason why I love Chris Clavin, or at least the reason I am going to talk about in this review is because, despite having a pretty consistent canon, he never, ever fails to surprise me. Since moving from Bloomington Indiana around the country, settling in Cairo, IL and back again, Mr. Clavin has not slowed down a bit when it comes to releasing new music. Whether it was with his punk band Imperial Can or the many split cassette releases he issued on his label, Plan-It-X, Chris has been a busy man writing his endearing songs. Sometimes he’s been filled with bubbling positivity, sometimes the songs are overwrought with pessimism and sometimes they burn with the ire against the ills of our society. But no matter what Chris is singing about, it’s always coming from his heart.
Inky Skulls is yet another new endeavor from Chris and his friend Emily Rose. Despite being a male/female musical duo, do not expect any rehash of the ground that Chris previously tread in Ghost Mice, or any of his other projects for that matter. The duo has chosen the ukulele, an instrument whose face is changing, as the center piece for their songs. And, not surprisingly Rose and Clavin make music that brings these instruments to life, pushing them beyond the toy box stigma and kitsch labels the ukulele is often tagged with. This is not irony music, the instrument essential to the songs breath.
Instead Introduction to Alchemy is a rather robust presentation, which is even more surprising considering it is the culmination of only two weeks of writing and recording. The seven songs, six originals and a fun cover of “Mommy Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” are dense and complex, despite the relatively sparse sounds. Further, we find the lo-fi loving Clavin capturing his songs with some of the clearest presentations to date.
The topics range from wanting to rule in a world enslaved by capitalism, good friends standing by you and loving life. There are odes to a hot dog shop and wishing someone would get repossessed by a demon. The simplicity of the whole recording makes it both touching and endearing. This is Clavin at the best he’s been in years, easily his strongest, most cohesive work since the Ghost Mice/Andrew Jackson Jihad split from a few years back. This music was probably as much of a surprise to Clavin as it is to the world, but it was born from a desire to create and collaborate. Rose’s vocals match Clavin’s strong voice that has been honed after years on community center floors, small DIY spaces and the oddest of venues. Inky Skulls are beautiful. There is no other way of saying this.
The Places You Call Home
Self Released (donations at bandcamp)
Surely inspired by the history or even mythology of Bloomington’s DIY music scene, Summer Salt comes (at least for me) out of nowhere. I know nothing about this band, the people in it or what the deal is. All I know is that they are from Bloomington and Chris Clavin endorses them. That’s an endorsement that means something to me and so I checked them out and I’m in love.
Structurally, the band is slightly reminiscent of The Measure (SA), the beloved pop-punk quartet from New Jersey. The vocal harmonies feel right at home and the songs move with ease through the transitions, creating for a seamless, effortless listening experience. Of course, the power of loud amps and thundering drums are not the background for this band. It’s punk in its simplicity, but the songs are nothing but breathtaking.
I love the drum sound on this record. Quiet, low-budget production lovers should take note. Every part of the kit is in full effect, clear and present, but the drums don’t over power anything. Instead, the instrument becomes alive and essential, the product of good, solid and simple playing combined with a good ear turning the nobs at mix down. Sure, these are the boring technical aspects of this record, but it’s so important. A muddled drum set, too drenched in room reverb or too over powering could have ruined this album.
Everything else sits with a great cadence. Whatever room or rooms the instruments and voices were captured in must be a part of some awesome vortex, because everything sounds like it’s in the room with you. My cozy headphones slipped over my ears tonight, at 2:52 AM keeping making me look up, searching for the people making these songs. They aren’t here, but it’s easy to imagine the place where this album was made. It’s warm and inviting and totally relaxing, just like the songs.
Summer Salt is sweet and a bit quirky for sure, but it draws you in and gives you a warm place to rest your head. Sometimes the best music is something that isn’t presumptive or assuming. There are no angles at all here on The Places You Call Home. Instead, it’s just an invitation to sit back and put your feet up. The band will melt your worries away. You can’t ask for anything better than that.