[16 August 2005]
Sometimes when you have no direction, your best bet is to just start reaching. The narrators of I Am Kloot’s third full-length do just that, sometimes to great effect, and sometimes stumbling over ill-conceived poetry. At his best, songwriter Johnny Bramwell strings together fine, grabbing lyrics, but he’s become too enamored of his literary bent, trying to pack together poetic devices that head off to nowhere. He succeeds much more often than he fails, but he comes up short to remind you just how good these guys could be.
The opening track crosses from Manchester to Greenwich Village, throws down a challenge, and goes back to the UK to declare the band’s place. “No Direction Home” offers an obvious allusion to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, and by its placement on the album and its status as a single, the song reveals Kloot’s ambitions. While the band clamors and clambers toward greatness, it deals with loss and confusion. Here the narrator travels an emotional journey opposite to that of Dylan’s, seeking a precise placement and gradually losing confidence rather than learning to appreciate the freedom of having “nothing left to lose”.
The transition into “Gods and Monsters” works well on a musical level, but its jump in emotional geography (from displacement to an easy chair) makes little sense. Going through this album and the previous one, we’ll probably only find this one sequencing mistake, but it’s odd that it’s so dramatic. The song itself holds up well, with Bramwell’s voice (the one Colin Meloy should have been born with) orating against the death of the imagination, but not revealing the fruits of the spiritual freedom we’ve lost. He declares that the title figures exist, but he doesn’t explicate their existence. It’s a powerful rhetorical maneuver, and this indeterminancy colors the remaining 11 tracks on the album.
Too often, though, Bramwell pens the kind of lyrics that make lit-focused undergrads fill up message boards, but that offer little in the way of concrete thought. The ambiguity of a track like “Gods and Monsters” loses out to an imprecision of diction. This type of writing easily gains labels like “oblique” or “mysterious”, but in truth it’s merely the sound of an unpolished poet placing pretty words in proximity. When Bramwell sings “don’t let the earth in me subside”, he sounds as if he’s voicing an innate human plea for significance, but even a haphazard reading dismantles the effect of the word “earth”, a substance that probably should subside within a person to let their hope soar. What Bramwell means—based on the context of the line—is don’t let my earthly side settle into a couch (as the slow-minded have done in “Gods and Monsters”). It’s not a horrible line, but it’s a confusing one that breaks up an otherwise compelling song.
If it was just a matter of semantical picking, I’d call myself a fussy old monkey and let you enjoy your album. It’s not, though—it’s a matter of disrupting good songs, which isn’t tolerable. On the album’s uplifting closer (an honest uplift, given the intelligent build toit that the band has provided), Bramwell falters with: “We trade ourselves for nothings/ And the words are our conceits.” The first half of the line indicts the sloppy world he’s battled throughout the album, but the second half undercuts the language he’s employed as both shield and spear. I’m unsure whether he’s confused about the possible meanings of the word “conceits” or if he’s toying with possible metaphors that he wants to leave unravelled. If it’s the first, then it’s a poetic failing; if the second, then it’s a meta-verse that ultimately undoes the emotional string tied by the classical approach.
You’ll want to make these littered phrases into valuable nuggets, and with enough creativity and diligence, I’ve no doubt you can do that. I’m sure someone by the end of the day will have the full album explicated from me, but that response only reveals your own readerly abilities while ignoring Bramwell’s writing faults. And don’t get me wrong, Bramwell’s an excellent songwriter—the band’s second, self-titled album is proof enough of that, and he’s managed to write lyrics that made me essentially ignore the well-crafted, beautifully-produced Britpop of the album. If the lyrics weren’t as good as they are, I wouldn’t bother going after them. If they were better, they would alienate me from the music that almost wins me over.
I Am Kloot is a good band, and Bramwell has the skills at the page/keyboard/mic/whatever to put together a classic. It doesn’t exist yet, and with Clearlake and Elbow yet to release albums this fall, Kloot might spend another year stuck behind even the indie-level Britpoppers. I want to see what Bramwell does next, though, because I want to keep reading him aggressively until he gives me that album that astounds me. To do that, I think he’ll need to pull back in from some of his MFA leanings.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/iamkloot-gods/