Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Like Clockwork

April 11, 2004

If there were a moral to Like Clockwork’s latest album, it would be: break-ups suck. Why? Because Jesse Astin recently suffered a breakup large enough to spawn 15 songs on the topic. Those 15 songs were compiled, and the title “A Cross in the Ground” was stamped on the resulting album.

These fifteen songs of electronica-tinted hard rock, rock, pop, and balladry are confessional in the highest sense of the word. This is some of the most emotionally draining music I’ve ever heard. It’s like Astin scrubbed his mind of every thought, then wrung out the sponge into these songs. I feel like I know Jesse Astin after listening to this album. That’s how much emotion was put into this. It’s truly amazing.

The songs range from sparse piano to thundering hard rock, and everything in between. I said that already, but there’s really no other way to explain it. It’s all extremely well coordinated and extremely well written, which was a surprise to me, as albums that span multiple genres usually fare horribly. The best songs here reflect that, as “Poison to Stir” is an acoustic-led ballad, and “No Out Girl” is a highly electronic, abrasive rock piece that crescendos wonderfully to a chorus that is epic in scope and sound. If there were more like “No Out Girl”, this album would’ve been even better than it already is.

In fact, the only thing that fares horribly on this album are the vocals. Astin’s voice is a train wreck of a voice: off-key, yelping, nearly screaming in some parts, and grating on the ears. In a few songs, his off-kilter vocal explosions fit well (A Poison to Stir to actually has an excellent vocal performance), but overall the impression left is: “AUGH, THESE VOCALS ARE KILLING ME!” I hate trashing vocals, but Astin’s leave a mark that you don’t soon forget.

Perhaps there’s some genius in that…It is true that whatever song you listen to by Like Clockwork will stay in your head. You may not be humming along (probably not, actually), but you will remember it.

I would put Like Clockwork in the column of ‘Bands I Like’; I just don’t think they would be very high up on the scale. After all, you have to work to appreciate it. I’m not opposed to thinking about my music and repeating it till I’m accustomed to it, but the best music connects without thought.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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