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Thom's Night Out

(Brassland; US: 3 Jul 2001)

To me, the name “Clogs” sounds like it would be associated with dark or dissonant music, perhaps the side project of a goth or industrial band. But far from being gloomy or heavy, most of the music on Clogs’ latest album Thom’s Night Out is low-key and delicate. Indeed, the main genre this is likely to be placed in is stylistically far from the ones mentioned above, or from rock and roll even, as all four members of Clogs are academically trained in classical music. The group’s founder, Padma Newsome, has an especially prestigious background, having studied composing in both his native Australia and the Yale School of Music in the U.S. The training he and the four other musicians bring to Clogs is evident through every note they play, yet this music isn’t stuffy, conventional or one-dimensional. Rather, they take relatively traditional musical sources and build on them in an open, creative way, which lends their sound a very free, diverse air.

The instruments used on Thom’s Night Out are violin, viola, guitars, bassoon, saxophone and percussion, with the stringed instruments generally taking the most dominant role. Clogs’ music is quite pretty, and most of the time gentle in tone, yet nothing about their compositions is simple, either. Given the biographical and musical setup, the mix of musical styles is quite diverse. There are expansive pieces where repeating melodies soar over soundscapes, a la many of today’s so-called “post-rock” musicians popular in the indie world, but also jumpy pieces with alarming changes. The openness of their sound allows for various strains of folk music as well as a mix of melody and mood. A track like “Sadness and Obsession” has an especially avant-garde feeling to it, without odd sounds and textures quickly leaping in and out of the sound.

Far from being just classical or ambient or experimental, Clogs sound is that of extremely proficient musicians expressing themselves in a way that feels right to them, leading their music (and listeners) into all sorts of feelings and moods while playing with the genres and styles that interest them. While the album kicks off with a relatively restrained yet beautiful number called “Yeri Ali”, there’s also room for a work like “Mysteries of Life”, which is both pretty and intense, with funky, rhythmic jumps interrupting a repeating melody, giving it even more force in the process. Clogs don’t seem to be aiming at one particular audience—neither the indie “post-rock” fans or the more “sophisticated” classical fans. They seem like an outfit with their own personality, doing as they please. That of course, is always a format for artistic success when you’re dealing with musicians as talented as the members of Clogs. By being themselves and avoiding easy categorization, they take listeners through multiple sonic worlds, all pleasing and unique.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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