It takes guts and bravery for a rock band to choose to make a concept album. Concept albums are ambitious and usually not as accessible for new fans. They oblige listeners to pay attention and engage in a different way – namely, by requiring that their brains interpret the music instead of their emotions or unconsciously-tapping feet. And this is to say nothing about a concept album which takes its themes from the 19th century.
Clawjob, however, has the guts and the bravery (or maybe the craziness) to do just this. Their latest release, the EP Manifest Destiny, includes songs about events that you may remember from your high school U.S. History class. But one thing is certain: your teacher didn’t represent history in the cynical, dark way that Clawjob interpreted it.
Manifest Destiny opens with brash and moody distortion right away in “The Era of Good Feelings.” The lyrics taken out of context sound sunny and almost cheesy: “new technology/ and brand new frontiers can civilize the West/ we can do what we deem best/nothing can stop us now.” But when these words are matched with distorted guitar and synthesizer, and sung in an entirely unconvincing way, their meaning completely changes. It is very quickly understood that this so-called era of good feelings is, to put it lightly, perhaps not the most fitting name for the time period.
For example, the next track, “Slice Me Up,” is about battlefield surgery in the Civil War. Seriously. This song is much more energetic than the opener, and its herky-jerky style is reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand (which is another historical reference, come to think of it). But despite its heavy topic and troubling lyrics, you’ll still find yourself intoxicated by the driving guitar riffs. And definitely check out the comic-book style music video of “Slice Me Up” on Clawjob’s website.
Other topics include The Great Diamond Hoax of 1872 and the Industrial Revolution. And all throughout these subjects in Manifest Destiny there’s a feeling of sinister sarcasm, or it’s just downright troubling. That shouldn’t scare any potential listeners off, though. This EP has obviously been carefully crafted and planned, and its offbeat and different approach is interesting in itself. And, if nothing else, maybe Clawjob’s Manifest Destiny could serve as a history lesson.