Clutch: Strange Cousins From the West

With a new, self-run label, the Maryland band kicks off a new chapter in their long career, sounding as potent as ever.


Strange Cousins From the West

Label: Weathermaker Music
US Release Date: 2009-07-14
UK Release Date: 2009-07-13
Artist Website

They've metamorphosed from stoner rock weirdos to practitioners of a mighty cool blend of blues, rock, and metal, developing a reputation as one of the most consistent heavy rock bands in America. But for all the hard-earned success, despite the devoted, live bootleg-trading fans who follow them obsessively, one thing Clutch never had was a record label that treated them with any respect. After a brief flirtation with major labels in the late-'90s and early this decade, it wasn't until the Maryland band signed to DRT Records that Clutch started to truly come into its own: Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus, and From Beale Street to Oblivion formed a superb trifecta between 2004 and 2007. You'd think that a label lucky enough to have these guys (always good on record, always touring, popular enough to guarantee a mid-top 100 debut) would be thrilled to throw its support behind them, but DRT's seemingly apathetic approach got worse with every new record, the acrimony between artist and label coming to a head when the US CD versions of the ambitiously designed Beale Street were presented in cheap jewel cases, embarrassing the band. If that wasn't enough, not six months later, the imprint had gone bankrupt, practically boarding up its offices and vanishing overnight, leaving Clutch to pick up the pieces.

As frustrating as 2007 had to have been for the band, two years later Clutch is at long last on firm footing, with a self-run label in Weathermaker Music. Already having warmed up with a 2008 live album/DVD and the latest release by jam band side project The Bakerton Group, they're set to flex their muscles as auteurs for real with Clutch's ninth studio album, and from the lavish fold-out digipak artwork to the spirited music within, this is clearly a group of musicians thrilled to have complete artistic freedom at long last.

Their most streamlined record in years, Strange Cousins From the West marks a return to the band's more robust sound of six years ago. Hammond B3 contributor Mick Schauer played a pivotal role on the last two Clutch albums, adding tremendous richness to the blues-drenched compositions both on record and live, so his departure from the band was a significant one; but while it may be initially jarring to hear the comparatively skeletal-sounding, straight-up four-piece jamming on the new record, what soon becomes apparent is just how much the foursome, especially guitarist Tim Sult, makes up for the absence or that wicked-sounding organ. Blast Tyrant producer J. Robbins has been brought back, and just like that record, the band's attack is a lot more direct than their more laid-back past two.

"Motherless Child" opens Strange Cousins with a ferocious blues jam, ace drummer Jean-Paul Gaster adding tension with his stuttering beats, as vocalist Neil Fallon eschews his trademark wordplay for sentiments much more direct than usual ("Sometimes I feel just like a countryless man"). Fallon's history lesson "Abraham Lincoln" is a dark funeral dirge, guitars menacing atop Gaster's dignified snare rolls, while "50,000 Unstoppable Watts" is quintessential Clutch -- heavy riffery, a monstrous groove, and Fallon's charisma melding into something as powerful as the song title would indicate, Fallon's maniacal howl of "Anthrax, ham radio, and liquor" typically enigmatic yet vivid. In direct contrast is the lively "Struck Down", a song as thematically pedestrian as anything Clutch has ever recorded, but Sult's propulsive riff is undeniable, Gaster and bassist Dan Maines locking down that head-bobbing groove all the while.

The rest of the album ambles along comfortably, swaggering here, shuffling there, Sult's nimble guitar work carrying the swinging "Witch Doctor", "Minotaur", and "The Amazing Kreskin". The albums final third, though, is especially vigorous, with the straight-ahead blues of "Let a Poor Man Be", Fallon's crazed doomsayer delivery on "Freakonomics" ("Nothing’s gonna satisfy them / Till it all goes Cernobyl"), the fun Spanish-sung cover of the Argentinian rock tune "Algo Ha Cambiado", and the brilliantly titled, wickedly contagious "Sleestack Lightning"

Perfectly timed for the sweltering, lazy days of summer, Strange Cousins From the West isn't as much a reinvention as it is a reaffirmation of just how resilient a band Clutch is. Even without proper label support, they've been on one hell of a creative roll these past five or six years, but now that they finally find themselves fully in charge of every aspect of their art. It's starting to reflect in the songs, something both the band and their fans can only benefit from in the long run.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.