Youth is both a blessing and a curse. Youthful vigor can elevate even the most average material into something sublime. However, youth will also betray immature songwriting and poorly developed ideas. Minnesota rockers, Clair De Lune embrace both sides of youth's conundrum. Their sophomore effort -- and first full length for Deep Elm -- Marionettes shows a band that is full of interesting ideas but held back by a pedestrian presentation.
From the opening strains of "Sailor Beware", it's clear that Clair De Lune are thinking a few steps ahead of their actual talent. Pianist Adam Roddy's sparsely melodic runs nicely flesh out an ordinary guitar progression. This is just the first of many interesting musical flourishes and production touches that hint at some remarkable ideas hiding beneath the boring veneer of Clair De Lune's paint-by-numbers post-hardcore. Engineered by newcomer Adam Constable (his only All Music credit belongs to this album) and produced by the band themselves, Marionettes infers a sonic maturity that is unfortunately not revealed in their music.
The opening three tracks are a frustrating affair. Each song displays bright ideas, but they are never given room for full exploration, as they are continually boxed in by tired emo theatrics. However, it's the album's fourth song, "Passenger View", that manages to best utilize Clair De Lune's ideas, and alternately promises something better from the band that isn't found on Marionettes. This piano driven number starts off plainly enough, but just past the one minute mark, the song comes to a dead distorted thunderous halt that can't quite be placed, before once again kicking back into the verse. It's an interesting moment that adds genuine emotional weight to the song. As the track comes to a close, electronic burps nicely texture the outro before segueing into the instrumental "Twenty Threes". Unlike a lot of bands that throw in instrumental numbers in a (usually failing) effort to showcase their songwriting abilities, "Twenty Threes" nicely fits into the overall scope of Marionettes. Anchoring the middle of the album, it's a shame the songs surrounding "Passenger View" and "Twenty Threes" fail to measure up. "Ghost of the Hill", "Machinegun Lipstick", and "Relapse" all display the production acumen of a band beyond Clair De Lune's years. That the band can't bring their songwriting up to the level of their studio prowess is a constant source of frustration for the listener.
Lyrically, however, the band is for the most part very strong. Whereas many of their label mates wallow in self-pity, Clair De Lune opens their window to observe the world. Despite the cringe worthy lyrics of "Life on Remote", a simplistic attack on modern life, the band chooses a more abstract, less personal vision. And though their view is outward and not inward, Clair De Lune's lyricists -- Justin Burckhard and Adam Roddy -- still manage to remain poetic.
While the Deep Elm roster continues to grow seemingly non-stop, with an ever-expanding roster of watered down, over-emotive, power punk groups, there are a couple of bands that are shine through the sea of faceless hardcore outfits. Desert City Soundtrack and Clair De Lune are two Deep Elm groups that show immense promise. However, the same problem plagues both of these acts: both bands' songwriters rely far too heavily on the clichéd post-whatever quiet-loud dynamic. Both of their strengths lie in more textured material. When given the chance to breathe and expand, Clair De Lune and Desert City Soundtrack both display a prowess that begs to be explored. But one can forgive the folly of these young songwriters. They are already displaying hints of maturity that they will grow into in the coming years.