Clatter's first release, Blinded by Vision, was new territory for me. Combining melodic basslines with heavy distortion and powerful female vocals, it took former rhythm instruments and brought them forward. It's a solid album, with a few standout songs, so I had high hopes for Clatter's newest album, Monarch. For the most part, I'm not disappointed.
First, a note about the album's packaging: like Blinded by Vision, Monarch comes in a cardboard-and-plastic sleeve instead of a jewel case. Unlike that album, when you order it from Clatter directly, it comes with a few extras. The band has become increasingly green these last few years, and they've decided to not only advocate for global warming reform with their packaging materials, but they also include a monarch butterfly sanctuary kit, with information about the insects and seeds that will attract them on their migration patterns. It's a nice gesture.
But how's the music? For this release, Amy Humphrey (bass, vocals) has added a twelve-string bass to her toolkit, in addition to the ringing Rickenbacker that she had used before. You can really hear the drone strings in the bass sound, since they produce a much thicker, guitar-like distortion. In fact, this is a much more produced album in almost every way: there are added vocal harmonies by Humphrey, the occassional synth in the background, and speech samples integrated into the songs. It's not impossible to imagine that Clatter will play these live, since they've traditionally used a click track and sampler for backups. But at times the extra production does seem gratuitous, or even garish: "For Her" is a great Franz Ferdinand-like dance track, but it's marred by a clumsy dialog sketch dropped into the bridge.
In a lot of ways, that lack of subtlety is Monarch's biggest weakness. "House of Trouble," for example, rails against global warming skeptics and the Bush administration, and it doesn't hesitate to drive its point home. There's also a cover of Rush's "Limelight" that's surprisingly well-executed considering the difference in instrumentation. Humphrey's voice seems stronger this time around, but she's still not a singer with a great emotional range. Joe Hayes' drumming, however, continues to fill the space behind the bass without being obnoxious--say what you like about the choice of instrumentation, these two can lock into a tight groove together.
All in all, Monarch is a good album, but I'm not sure there are any standouts that I'm going to enjoy as much as Blinded by Vision. Its best songs, "House of Trouble," "For Her," and "Somewhere Inside" are more consistent, but there's less experimentation (there's nothing quite as distinctive as the auto-wah bassline of "Center Line," for example). I hesitate to call this a sophomore slump, but I'm definitely looking forward to what Clatter will do next. In the meantime, listen to the samples and see if it's to your taste--for non-bassists and more conventional listeners, Monarch might well be a better fit.
Bass-n-drums rock specialists Clatter have dropped the price on their Blinded by Vision album now that they're back in the studio again. It's great stuff for $6. I'm going to keep annoying you until you buy it.
The always cheerful Amy and Joe from Clatter sent out a note on their mailing list to remind me that they're playing the New Amsterdam Bar on the University of Tennessee campus this Saturday, starting at 8pm. Not only will Clatter be playing, but the two-bass band Toupe will also be appearing for the first time in the US. It's a whole evening of great bass-based rock. I don't think I can make it, but if you are anywhere near the area I highly recommend that you check it out.
One of my favorite bands, Clatter, has updated their website. It's a beautiful design, based around images from their farm in Missouri. You should check them out, if you haven't before. The band is composed of two married musicians, Amy (bass, vocals) and Joe (percussion). They're fantastically talented musicians who support each other well onstage.
Clatter has been a real inspiration to me. I picked up a lot of unconventional techniques from Amy, including fingernail strumming, which is a big part of my sound. Most importantly, Clatter is a two-person band that doesn't suck, and there are no guitars. Most solo bassists play jazz (Michael Manring) or crazy pyrotechnique stunts (Vic Wooten), which is great if you're into that kind of thing. Unfortunately, I'm not. Amy's bass playing isn't flashy, but it's solid and it rocks out. It really helped to have that as a model when I was forming the concept for my solo stuff.
And they made it okay to use a ton of distortion. I'd kill to have her amp setup--an SWR with 8x8 cab for the clean sounds, plus a Super Redhead just for effects and a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier guitar amp set to obliterate for distortion.
There's a CD, which is great for bassists and non-musicians alike, and a DVD, which is oddly mixed but a lot of fun. I think you should buy them.