Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

There's Folk and Punk in Clock Hands' Stranglehold

October 29, 2009

Clock Hands Strangle suffered from a peculiar syndrome when I was reviewing this album. I enjoyed this album so much that I put it in my car and started listening to it like I would if it were an album that I purchased from a record store. But when I do that, I don’t think about things like “when I need to have it reviewed by” and things of that nature. Hey, we’re definitely not pros here at IC. Only here will producing a fantastic album actually delay your review. Sorry.

But Disticatti is an incredible album that deserves the words I’m about to lavish on it. It’s a folk/punk album, and the punctuation is chosen particularly. It’s not folk-punk, where the folk has a whole lot of punk strumming and attitude (O Death comes to mind) or folk punk, which is a punk band playing folk instruments (The Violent Femmes, for example). This is a band that plays folk and punk in equal measure. The fact that the opener and title track is a rumbling folk track is entirely distinct and separate from the fact that stand-out track “As Is” is a straight-up pop-punk song. Do the two genres influence each other? Yes, definitely. “As Is” has a lot of melodic content that’s directly influenced by folk, especially the vocal line, which echoes Conor Oberst from I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. “Disticatti” has an attitude about it that is distinctly punk, and some of the instrumentation gets a little rough for folk.

But it’s clear that there are two sides of Clock Hands Strangle’s collective brain, and they are exercising both. “The Moon Looks Back” has a clanging, dissonant guitar line that clomps along in a punk vein.  “To a Meteorite in a Museum” is a folk song on acoustic guitar with traditional strumming and even a harmonica. It’s one of the best tracks on the album. They do mix the ideas; this isn’t a totally schizophrenic release. “New York” is a folk guitar line run through a distortion pedal and hammered out in that way. “Instrumental” features both sides of their brain, starting slow (in a somewhat Neutral Milk Hotel-ish vein, with trombone) and ending up in a galloping folk/punk hybrid (folk drumming, punk guitar).

These are just some of the delights that greet listeners of Disticatti. “Cotton” is an immensely enjoyable track, accompanied by neat backup vocals and the horns that make several appearances throughout the album. The vocals shine here, sounding like a more empathetic version of Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse. The comparisons to the folk joys of Good News For People Who Love Bad News are unavoidable throughout, but they come through strongest on “Cotton.” They lean harder toward folk in the back half of the album, skewing the balance of folk/punk toward the quieter element of the two. But the balance is never thrown off entirely, as closer “Maria” features upfront horns and an electric guitar solo.

Disticatti is an incredibly artful album, combining folk and punk into meaningful and interesting combinations. The effective use of vocals, horns, and attitude throughout makes the songs into incredibly entertaining pieces. If you’re a fan of folk, punk, or artsty music, this album should really be given a spin. I can see everyone from fans of Fall Out Boy to Neutral Milk Hotel to Damien Jurado enjoying this, and that’s a wide, wide sweep. Two cheers for Clock Hands Strangle.

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

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