Album Review: Clues – Clues (Constellation)


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MP3: Clues – Perfect Fit

Alden Penner doesn’t exactly have to shoot for the stars here. You see, ever since the remaining two members of his last group, The Unicorns, restarted their careers gallivanting around the globe with Islands (a comprehensive failure in my book), he’s had little to live up to. He isn’t even alone now: fellow Canuck and ex-Arcade-Fire-member Brendan Reed has joined forces with Mr. Penner for their latest project, called Clues. Now with some new material from them, it’s become clear who the driving creative force behind the Unicorns (and Clues, apparently) really is.

Penner & Reed (a name fit for writing musicals) attempt to invoke a more theatrical version of the Unicorns’ unmatched (as of yet) variety of imagination-pop on Clues’ self-titled debut. And just like Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone, Clues’ music runs seamlessly and simultaneously with distinction, a feat worth praise all on it’s own. With some ballsy metallic percussion and just enough muted strumming to carry the tune along, “Approach The Throne” is what really loosens up the album. It pleases the ears upon conception, but when the typical-Penner la-la section competes with some of the album’s louder instrumentals for space, the result is uninviting and somehow sounds wrong. It’s just too much for its own good.

Shortly thereafter, Clues gladly discover their niche. “In The Dream” finds Alden whispering (something foreign?) over reverbed out guitars ready-made for a creepy forest-at-night scene, whereas “You Have My Eyes Now” spends it’s first period anxiously waiting for the distorted detonation that follows (echoing of Explosions In The Sky post-rock, oddly enough).

Alden and Brendan’s voices seem like they’re best suited for a soft backing, which is quite unfortunate for the majority of Clues’ debut. Tracks like “Ledmonton” and “Cave Mouth” have the Penner-half of the duo taking great strides to simply appear capable. He may get an A for effort, but the overall outcome garners no such mark. It causes the larger portion of the album to sound forced and unnatural, much unlike previous projects from either musician.

Clues aren’t The Unicorns 2.0, no matter how much I want them to be. That said, Clues’ track list contains the closest thing you’re going to get nowadays. Opening with a murder-mystery themed piano line, “Perfect Fit” is the could-be baroque pop single from the Unicorns album that’ll never be written. It increases in velocity until it’s out of control; the song takes on a life of its own, concluding with the album’s catchiest (and most complete) full minute.

In the end, that’s what is missing from Clues: catch. Aside from the rollicking finale to “Haarp,” the record feels just about catch-less, something quite surprising when you look at the credentials of Penner & Reed. There’s no sparkling, bursting-with-ingenuity quality to Clues, which is what characterizes the breakthroughs of their earlier projects. For that reason, i think we can all agree that Clues didn’t exactly get astronomical in their first release, and it showed. I know we’re all just biding our time until Jamie Thompson, Nick Thorburn and Alden Penner decide it’s time to run through that sun-soaked field with open arms, but in the meantime, I guess Clues will do just fine.

Label: Constellation

Release Date: May 19 2009

Track list:

1. Haarp
2. Remember Severed Head
3. Approach The Throne
4. In The Dream
5. You Have My Eyes Now
6. Perfect Fit
7. Elope
8. Cave Mouth
9. Crows
10. Ledmonton
11. Lets Get Strong

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3 Responses to “Album Review: Clues – Clues (Constellation)”

  1. Farley M. says:

    “Something foreign”? They’re from Montreal. What do you think it is?

  2. kommm says:

    why does every review compare it to “who will cut our hair” unfavorably. It’s totally different except for melodic sensibilities. It’s not wrong because it doesn’t sound like the unicorns in some places. It is innovative and different. The instrumental part and detailed and deliberate. I swear! This generation grew up on too much ritalin to listen to music anymore!
    Well, as always the fans will dictate what is right or not. Clues fans, not Unicorns or Arcade Fire fans.

  3. jamie says:

    Brendan is not a “Canuck”.

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