Why Make Clocks: Fifteen Feet and Twenty Degrees

[17 December 2002]

By Nikki Tranter

I'd rather be empty than a mixed bag full of shit

The outstanding feature of Why Make Clocks’ debut full-length release, Fifteen Feet and Twenty Degrees is its honesty. With steady and low guitars, deliberately unhurried, the band has created a heartfelt, occasionally brutal portrait of a man lost in the recklessness of adult relationships.

With his strong grasp of metaphor and meaning, Clocks’ lead singer and principal lyricist, Dan Hutchison, has constructed ten easygoing tracks, each with markedly diverse narratives from a variety of points of view. Whether he’s obsessing over his inability to stop time (on “Sink or Swim”) or regurgitating harsh conversations about shitty guys (on “Forcing My Hand”), Hutchison’s songs are always believable, sincere, and smart.

Why Make Clocks, originating in Iowa in 1998, is made up of several already established musicians. Their talents are evident on the album as they combine skillful guitar playing with more unconventional instruments (a couple featuring a sultry accordion). With such an eclectic mixture of sounds each easily distinguishable on the album as band members are given ample time to display their flair, Hutchison is right in labeling his songs “musician-friendly”. The songs each have distinct arrangements, giving them the ability to fall into a variety of categories, from pop to rock to jazz, and even alt.country.

Hutchison’s vocals are often sharp and keenly convincing. It’s very easy for his style of singing to slip into maudlin whining, but instead of any kind of wallowing, Hutchison has taken his songs about heartache and depression and has turned them around to be almost proactive. He’s less prone to bitching about others often preferring to examine himself.

The opening song on Fifteen Feet demonstrates just how capable the Clocks are of creating gorgeous, understated music. With “Revolver”—vocally sounding a lot like a Michael Stipe with a just a sprinkling of Toad the Wet Sprocket—Hutchison bursts out of the gate with a gem: “Starting off with a slow dance / The room sways with rented lights / Divide the potential dancers / To their own sides of the room / Another Friday night in view”. The song slowly transforms itself into a rather macabre tale of misused opportunity, finishing up with a breathtaking guitar, which, bizarrely, sounds almost vocal, as though it’s sympathizing with Hutchison.

Song after song on Fifteen Feet exacts this kind of expert musicianship. The whole thing just sounds so organic, so effortlessly produced. Hutchison’s lyrics are the same way, as, while deliberate, they come off as though he’s making them up as he goes along. This is especially evident on “I Think the Answer’s No”. “Self-help books / Telephone cables / Won’t solve problems / That I ain’t able”, Hutchison sings, as though he’s spotting these thing as he looks about the room. There is really no strict rhyming to the songs, no real balance, just a general sense of a couple of guys sitting around saying what they want to say and playing how they want to play. To pull off a sound so real and unforced and actually make it good is quite an achievement.

On “You Never Knew This Kid”, Hutchison pulls off another great lyric with: “Are you getting the same impression / I left by way of confession / That I’d rather be empty / Than a mixed bag full of shit / I don’t understand”. Well, with their grand melodies and expert craftsmanship, Why Make Clocks are certainly a mixed bag, but never empty, nor full of shit. Nice one, fellas.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/whymakeclocks-15/