The celebrated avant-pop project of National guitarist Bryce Dessner gets medieval on your ass with The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton.
The idea of the Kronos Quartet being closet Tortoise fans and opting to make its next album a note-by-note cover of Millions Now Living Will Never Die is a mind blower, right? But until some freak coincidence occurs where my hypothesis may come to pass, we’ll have to settle for the music of Clogs.
It’s surprising to hear music like this coming from a member of a group like the National, who are more akin to the realms of paint-by-numbers indie rock than the nouveau chamber music of groups like Bell Orchestre and Rachel’s, whom Clogs are most associated with in addition to the music of the Books in terms of sound collaging. But members Padma Newsome and Bryce Dessner have been doing their string thing since before the National was even a thought, and push the realms of this new wave of classical music further than any of their contemporaries have yet to achieve.
For the fifth album from this indie-chamber supergroup, Newsome and Dessner introduce vocals into the fray for the very first time, as The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton features prominent cameos from the likes of Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Sufjan Stevens and Aaron Dessner and Matt Berninger of the National. However, unless you are a particular fan of Worden’s shrill alto, which is utilized on six of this album’s 10 tracks (including a duet with Stevens on the closing number “We Were Here”), or the medieval aspects of the fusion of classical and folk, chances are strong that you might not enjoy Lady Walton as much as you did Clogs’ previous LP, the stunning, experimental Lantern.
Yes, there are moments here, particularly the trio of instrumental tracks speckled throughout the album that will certainly provide an ample listening experience to fans of Clogs’ earlier work. But the trick here is whether or not you are a fan of My Brightest Diamond and harbor the stomach for Worden’s voice, which will cut through you like nails on a chalkboard if you are not particularly fond of her whole operatic thing she has going on. This is especially so on tracks like “On the Edge” and “The Owl of Love”, both of which will certainly give discerning listeners the slight feeling of being stranded at the Renaissance Fair whilst waiting in line for a pewter dragon medallion for your maiden.
This is not to say the music featured on The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton is without merit. It is excellently performed with the sense of vanguard imagination that all five Clogs albums have exhibited over the course of the '00s, particularly in the deep Canterbury folk influence that lies underneath the contour of this song cycle. But who can honestly they say they can stomach that particular style for more than one or two songs? I certainly can't.
Here is hoping that on the next album, Clogs will return to the 21st century where they belong by bringing back more of that sound collage aspect to the music, which made their stuff such a trip to hear in the first place.