http://www.facebook.com/Clock-Opera CLOCK OPERA The mind playing tricks. I remember at some point writing about an eclectic four piece avant pop group from various parts of the south of England called Clock Opera. I liked the group, and remember very well the first time that I heard them, when it occurred to me that even though I had never heard them before, they sounded like something I might have heard before, if, say, the first album by The Move was made by a four piece pop group that had been influenced by music not yet recorded.
The mind playing tricks.
I remember at some point writing about an eclectic four piece avant pop group from various parts of the south of England called Clock Opera. I liked the group, and remember very well the first time that I heard them, when it occurred to me that even though I had never heard them before, they sounded like something I might have heard before, if, say, the first album by The Move was made by a four piece pop group that had been influenced by music not yet recorded. They sounded like The Move if they had come after Sparks, The Associates, 808 State, Yo La Tengo and Keudo. As these were among my top sixty favourite pop acts of all time, for their marvellous ways of controlling drama, processing influences and releasing tension, this meant Clock Opera sounded good to me. Good like the Dave Clarke Five as if they were influenced by Fifty Foot Hose, which would give you a sound somewhere amongst Edgard Varese leading The Archies and George Antheill producing XTC. That good.
None of this happened yet.
Bob Harris might have introduced Clock Opera on a 1975 edition of the Old Grey Whistle Test by saying they were like a cross between Split Enz, Supertramp and Skrillex. John Peel might have played them on a February show in 1982 between Clock DVA and Nektar. Did Jimmy Webb once sing on an Autechre track? Did Syd Barratt sing a collection of Mission of Burma songs with the Kronos Quartet? I remember writing about Clock Opera and thinking don't mention too many other acts that they do or do not sound like, because even though it is frankly impossible for a 2011 pop group combining laptop programming and traditional pop instruments to sound as if they float free of influences, it's best not to bury a young new group under too much history, just in case it appears that the group are trapped inside their influences, not relishing them. But I couldn't help being carried away with making various connections, because one of the advantages 2011 pop groups have, if they take themselves seriously at the same time as not, is that there are unlimited possibilities in how they place/fold-in one thing/sound/idea with another. As long as they control themselves, they can stretch their music beyond reason, beyond pastiche.
Clock Opera, I remember thinking, have this wonderful tendency to sound like their music combines real memories and made up memories, strong memories, and shredded memories, and some sense of the mental and physical reality of a classic surprising pop song. It is a combination of singer, sampler and guitarist Guy Connelly's fevered memories of what a great pop song is, combined with the tweaked memories of bassist/multi-instrumentalist Andy West, percussionist/sampler Dan Armstrong and drummer Che Albrighton. Not one record collection, but four, and multiple variations therein. So Clock Opera, in a good way, in the way they begin a piece of music with exquisite care and end it, just like that, with battle commencing in between and a dynamic round the bend sense of time, sound like a group I never remember hearing who decided to imagine what would happen if they sounded like an original pop group whose members consisted of Steve Reich, Scott Walker, Peter Gabriel, Flo and Eddie and To Rococo Rot. That good.
Down to earth, up in the clouds.
I remember meeting three members of the group. Everyone but Che, drummers often being members of the invisible generation. I'm sure they remember meeting me. We will each of us have a different memory of the meeting but overall we would agree that we met. They looked like they belong in the same group ? same height, same build, same facial size, consistent hair colour, born in the same decade if not the same year, roughly same inside leg measurement, near enough the same sense of humour, similar delight in remembering their very first memories, but subtly different reasons why they want to be in a band - which is something not to be underestimated. I remember asking them what they would like their biography to say. These are a few of the conclusions that were reached, some of which I made up, some of which they decided:
Clock Opera are a group, not a loose collective, not just the sample jockeying solo art work of dashing Guy Connelly as a sort of wise, wide eyed DJ Shadow/Jon Brion/Daniel Lanois inventing the very idea of an enigmatic shape shifting post mixtape pop group influenced ? as in haunted by, say, Kate Bush, Panda Bear, Eno and Byrne, The Avalanches, Klaus Nomi, John Foxx and The Blue Nile, and using mere assistants to create the illusion of a group. Clock Opera are not simply Connelly's shrewd assessment and aggregate of genre and style across time and period as located inside the post-download landscape presented in the disguise of a post-Radiohead pop group. They are a group interested in the traditional but still exciting dynamics of the performing pop group, and how new forms of sourcing, writing, recording, assembling and treating songs can be incorporated into this idea.
Clock Opera are a group, each of whom have been in other groups, who were formed in 2009, releasing a selection of songs and pieces on a number of labels including Pure Groove, Kitsune, Maman and Moshi Moshi and touring with various bands.
Clock Opera are a group, who came about by chance, and organisation, who once in passing defined themselves as making ?chop pop?, but it is perhaps best if that is not how they are actually described. Chop pop or popchop as much as it might crudely describe the music of a group who use fragmented and splintered samples, glowing edits, colliding rhythms, forgotten dreams, digital collage, disintegrating intervals, merging tenses and cut up words as part of their compositional technique does not do justice to their enriched cohesive hybrid of minimalist attack, lush drones, linear transitions and repeated phrases mixed with seemingly random sequences of riffs. Indie-tronic is also useful as a vague wiki guide but severely underestimates their nuanced sensationalism and their cracking knowledge of prog rock and psych hop, Philip Glass and David Lynch, ambient acid and ghost rock, crystal vibrations and blissed out bells, spilling melodies and rhapsodic textures.
Clock Opera are a group, in other words an action concept, whose self-produced debut album is titled ?Ways to Forget'. To forget some things is another way of remembering other things; forgetting helps you remember the important stuff. One way of putting it is that the album is full of romance and recollections, re-enactments and speculations, memory and mystery, machine generated mood and human thought, and like a lot of really great pop is the work of inspired experimenters who are interested in pop and/or the work of techno-smart pop guys who grew interested in experimenting. Their attitude is that the degree of idea circulation allowed by recording during say the last sixty years has not led to a block on music creativity. They take the view that the more we explore the past, leaving no stone unturned, the more we find things that have not yet been explored. Time is crucial to human identity. The pop song, especially one influenced by the free speech of William Burroughs, the serene zest of The Zombies and in the burned out, coalescing distance Burial and Christian Fennesz, is a fantastic way of playing with and replaying time.
If we were to create a mood board to help work out what their sound is, then these are some words to put on that board: wintry, cerebral, druggy, earnest, innocent, playful, theatrical, ambitious, complex, elaborate, ethereal, indulgent, sentimental, bitter, accessible, adventurous, hammering, melancholy, experimental, elegant, precious, ominous, yearning, soothing, tense, manic, poignant, bombastic, refined, mannered, reflective, nocturnal, detached, plaintive, volatile, stylish, cathartic, searching. Allmusic.com, which is the internet music site home of such a mood board, also suggest giddy, hypnotic and knotty. They also mention Antony and the Johnsons, which is useful or not, depending on your mood.
All music as a list that has a beginning and an end and everything in between
I remember liking Clock Opera's choice of top ten albums of 2010, which included These New Puritans ?Hidden', Four Tet's ?There is Love in You', Pantha Du Prince's ?Black Noise' and Matthew Dear's ?Black City'. I was close to agreeing with at least those four. They admit to a pop affinity with the hooting and howling hyperpop of Wild Beasts. Along with their remixes for such as Au Revoir Simone, Everything Everything, Marina and the Diamonds, The Drums, Blood Orange, Tracy Thorn, Architecture in Helsinki, Metronomy and Phenomenal Handclap Band, eighty per cent of which improve the original, the gently cosmic remixes of their own songs by the likes of glittery jittery Little Loud and the Japanese fantasy collagist Clive Tanaka, it all suggests that as much as they could have supported or been supported by, Harpers Bizarre in the 60s, Pavlov's Dog in the 70s, Talk Talk in the 80s and Air in the 90s, they are immersed in the now in all sorts of ways. The now meaning that they make a pop music that suggests at the same time that when it comes to pop music we've heard it all before, and yet, quite simply, because of various machines, random inventions, social pressures, cultural urges, creative surges, networking ease and personal, shared, electronic memory connected with a continuing sense of anticipation, we ain't heard nothing yet. The past is a source for the energy of the contemporary computer generated world, not just a thing to be passively, anxiously nostalgic for. Some of it can be hoarded, some of it can be thrown away, and some of it become a barely remembered dream. Intense slowness and rapid acceleration becomes flattened out into the one continuum.
The naming of things: The words we use help us frame not only reality, but also our dreams.
Their name fits. It juxtaposes one thing with another, just like their music, and their lyrics, which lead to all sorts of sonic, literal and conceptual reverberations. Clock, because of the way their music follows strict inescapable patterns on the outside and inside of time, moves clockwise, and sometimes anti-clockwise, tick tocks from second to second, leaps from minute to minute, with minutes to go, always there, mysterious, persistent, biological, atomic, body, face, alarm, the circular band ever present in between the past and future. Analogue and digital. Opera, because of the grand drama, the fearless theatre, the epic, crushing sparkle, the crazy scenery, the concrete stylistic niceties, the way their songs tell their stories, which go all the way from foamy soap to fierce teeming space. Clock: duration, organic precision, cutting the day up into small portions.
Opera: elaborate structures, no half measures, divorced from but dependent on reality, featuring emotional fanatics and representing passions and emotions as morally significant.
Clock Opera: Machine and human, time and intensity, menace and opulence, real and unreal, fixed in flux. Wound up, rewinding, fast forwarding, and compelling people to fall in love with the colour of life.
Updating the memory
I remember writing about Clock Opera, and ending the piece by noting how Clock Opera seem determined in their own special cut-up way to remind listeners even in a world over-filled with too much cynical, contrived and complacent pop music how positively amazing pop music can be, as an entertainment that can actively change perceptions. I remember thinking, I wonder if it is ok to describe them as an eclectic four piece avant pop group. I remember deciding it was a good place to start.